Several well-connected Republicans are whispering that Tanner Ainge may very well win the August 15th primary in the 3rd Congressional District.
Money, primarily. They quietly say Ainge could spend a couple of million dollars on advertising to make his case to voters, something his Republican primary rivals, Chris Herrod and John Curtis cannot match.
Make no mistake; there is an opening for the political newcomer to win the August 15 primary, and ultimately a seat in Congress. But his window is very narrow.
Right now, internal polling numbers shared with UtahPolicy.com by one of the Republican campaigns shows Curtis has the biggest name recognition of any of the candidates left in the race, and it's not even close.
That internal polling shows Curtis's name recognition is better than both Herrod and Ainge by a better than magnitude of two. That's not surprising. He's the popular mayor of the largest population center in the district. Of course, he'll win the name recognition battle. Sure, he has his difficulties to overcome, primarily that he once was a Democrat, but ballots start going out in about a month. Curtis' name recognition right now is a massive advantage.
Herrod needs to up his game, and quick. Although he is the darling of the GOP delegates in the district, that internal polling shows his name ID is in the low single-digits in CD3. One person with extensive knowledge of Republican politics in Utah tells me they asked several hardcore Republicans in the district, "real Tea Party types" about Herrod. Most of them had never heard of him, despite his extensive conservative bonafide's. No matter how you slice it, that can't be good for Herrod's chances in August.
If Ainge is going to make any headway in this race, needs to start yesterday. The primary will be a vote-by-mail affair. Ballots for overseas and military voters will be sent out on Friday. The ballots to other voters will be sent out on July 25th.
If Ainge has the kind of financial resources at his disposal that many expect him to have, it's puzzling that he has not started advertising yet. Every day that passes without him taking an opportunity to introduce himself to voters, or making his case to win their votes is a missed opportunity. However, if he starts a spending blitz, it could change the trajectory of the race quickly.
Sources close to the Ainge campaign says they have a media strategy ready to go, including television commercials. But, they won't launch until they hit their fundraising goals.
"We need the campaign to pop," said one source. "We need to get Tanner's message out there, that he's a political outsider who isn't beholden to anyone, that he's a fiscal conservative."
It seems like Ainge is hoping to occupy the political real estate between Curtis and Herrod. Curtis's background as a Democrat and the controversy surrounding the Provo-Orem BRT bus line could make Republican voters uneasy voting for Curtis, while Herrod's reputation as a right-wing firebrand may be too much for Republican primary voters who tend to be a little more moderate than the delegates.
Don't underestimate his chances for victory. That strategy could very well play out, especially since he has a lot of the Mitt Romney team lining up behind his run for Congress.
However, time is Ainge's enemy right now. As of this writing, there are just 26 days until ballots are mailed out. That's less than a month before votes start being cast.
But, there's an advantage too. Since it's a 3-way race, someone could win with just 37% of the vote. An advertising blitz over the last two weeks before ballots are sent out might be enough to cross that threshold and secure the win.