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46 Days to Election Day: Utah

Utah is perhaps one of the most Republican states in the country although Wyoming may have something to say about that. Like Washington, besides a presidential election, there is also a gubernatorial race, Senate race, and four House seats as Utah also gains a seat in the House this decade. Is there any doubt that Mitt Romney will win this state and their six electoral votes?

In the gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican Gary Herbert will face Democratic businessman and sacrificial lamb Peter Cooke. Given the state of the economy in Utah (decent) and Herbert’s popularity, this should be no contest.

The Senate race will feature incumbent Orrin Hatch against former state senator Scott Howell, considered by many to be a conservative Democrat- a must in a state like Utah. Hatch defeated Dan Liljenquist, a Utah state senator, in the primary. For the second cycle in a row, an insurgent campaign by a Tea Party-backed candidate in Utah failed to secure the nomination for Hatch in the state convention thus forcing a primary run. Unlike Bennett in 2010, Hatch left nothing to chance and built up a huge war chest for a primary fight that never really materialized. Of over 200,000 votes cast in the Republican primary, Hatch defeated Liljenquist by a 2-1 margin and still has money left over to bury Howell.

The knock on Hatch, like that on Bennett in 2010, is that he had become part of the Washington establishment, was too much of a centrist, and too willing to compromise on important issues. For example, many of his votes, especially on the Judiciary Committee where he is the ranking Republican, has infuriated some conservative Republicans. In a very real way, Orrin Hatch represents the problems inherent in the Senate seniority system which engenders a “good old boy” network where seniority creates power. Because he has been in the Senate since Jimmy Carter was President, he has seniority and will likely take over the Judiciary Committee should Republicans capture the Senate this year.

In reality, it is a relatively risk-free process for the Republican Party in deeply red states like Utah to nominate the most conservative candidate for Senate. The Republican brand starts with an automatic head start and would basically have to be caught red-handed in a sexual affair to lose a statewide race. Hence, had Liljenquist won the primary, he likely would have also won the general election. That would have had the added benefit of infusing new blood into the Senate and upsetting that seniority apple cart. Regardless, Hatch will be there for another six years.

Currently, Republicans lead the House delegation 2-1, but they gain a seat this decade. It is safe to say that Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz- the two Republican incumbents- will win reelection, so the GOP will not lose any seats out of Utah. That leaves the 2nd, being vacated by the lone Democrat Jim Matheson who will run in the newly created 4th District. Matheson was a rare breed of Democrat in Utah in that he won elections in a Republican district. In fact, other than the North Carolina Democratic blue dogs and Dan Boren, Matheson is probably the most centrist of Democrats. The reality of his district dictates such. But, he sensed a better chance at reelection in the 4th District after deciding against a run for the Senate against Hatch. In fact, Matheson is probably the only Utah Democrat who could amount a challenge to Hatch.

Instead, Matheson will go up against Mia Love. Love is perhaps the most interesting Republican candidate this year with a realistic chance of winning. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she is the mayor of a small Utah town (Population-18,000), black, Mormon and conservative. She increased her profile after being a speaker at the Republican convention in Tampa Bay. Admittedly, she is fighting an uphill battle against Matheson who also happens to be the son of a popular former Governor. Incumbency has its advantages and one of them is fundraising. Here, Matheson has out-raised Love $1.5 million to $500,000. Looking at the specifics, greater than 80% of Matheson’s coffers are attributable to PACs while greater than 50% of Love’s coffers are from individual contributions. An advantage in that latter category is sometimes an indication of popularity within the district and sometimes large PAC contributions is a sign of worry in the Party leadership. However, she received valuable exposure as a result of her convention appearance also.

In the open 2nd District, Jay Seegmiller, a conductor for Amtrak will be the Democratic candidate. For the GOP will be Chris Stewart, an author, who won in a very crowded primary field. Again, the Republican has been the better fundraiser with Stewart taking a larger percentage of the personal contribution pie than Seegmiller. And apparently the Democrats have conceded this seat since they have invested very little PAC money in this race ($28,500 total to date). Thus the question becomes whether the GOP gains one or two seats in Utah this year. Given the fact that a President, Governor, and Senator will be elected this year, there should be a considerable down-ticket effect to push Mia Love over the top in the 4th District.

There are no questions or referendums on the Utah ballot this year.

In conclusion: Romney takes Utah, Herbert remains Governor and Hatch is reelected to the Senate. Also, Republicans sweep all four House seat races.

Running total thus far: Obama leads 23-9 in electoral votes while Democrats lead in the Senate 7 seats to 3 for Republicans. They (Democrats) also lead in the House, 12 seats to 10.

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