Misty Snow made history on Tuesday night, becoming the first transgender nominee for a federal office in Utah’s history. However, the euphoria from that accomplishment is about to hit the wall of political reality.
There’s a lyric from the Broadway smash “Hamilton” where General George Washington is explaining the daunting fight ahead against the British. It seems very apt in the battle of Snow vs. Lee – “Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, out planned.” But, instead of a victory against all odds, Snow barely stands a chance in November.
It’s been 24 years since a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate got at least 40% in a general election. That was Wayne Owens against Bob Bennett in 1992. That was also the last time a Republican was held to under 60% in an election. Since then, it’s been a master class in electoral ineptitude. Behold:
2012 – Orrin Hatch beat Scott Howell 65-30%
2010 – Mike Lee beat Sam Granato 62-33%
2006 – Orrin Hatch defeated Pete Ashdown 63-31%
2004 – Bob Bennett beat Paul Van Dam 69-28%
2000 – Orrin Hatch routed Scott Howell 66-32%
1998 – Bob Bennett downed Scott Leckman 64-33%
1994 – Orrin Hatch K.O.’ed Pat Shea 69-28%
1992 – Bob Bennett beat Wayne Owens 55-40%
1988 – Orrin Hatch thumped Brian Moss 67-32%
1986 – Jake Garn walloped Craig Oliver 72-27%
1982 – Orrin Hatch beat Ted Wilson 58-41%
1980 – Jake Garn defeated Dan Berman 74-26%
1976 – Orrin Hatch narrowly defeated Frank Moss 54-45%
1974 – Jake Garn squeaked by Wayne Owens 50-44%
The last Democrat to win an election to the Senate was Frank Moss in 1970. That’s nearly a half-century of futility. Babies born the last time a Democrat won a U.S. Senate election are now looking down the barrel of retirement.
It stretches the bounds of credulity to expect that Snow, a first-time candidate with little to no name recognition, and even fewer qualifications for the office, would be able to crack the 40-percent barrier in November.
This is not to say that Snow’s primary opponent, Jonathan Swinton would have fared any better against Lee in November. No matter who the Democrats nominate, the statewide ceiling for Utah Democrats in a statewide election is about 35-37%.
Then there’s the money aspect. Snow is severely outgunned financially. According to the latest FEC filings, Sen. Mike Lee has 532 times as much money in the bank as Snow. Money is the lifeblood of Utah politics, and Snow is going to find her campaign on life support.
Snow’s supporters are clinging to a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll from May that showed Lee with a 14-point lead over her in a hypothetical general election matchup. Lee was at 51% while Snow had 37% support. Yes, that 37% is much higher than a lot of recent Democrats running for U.S. Senate. But Lee had a majority, which put him smack dab in the middle of what political experts call the “re-elect zone.” Anytime an incumbent has a majority of support in a year they’re up for election, that’s usually a good sign.
Snow’s supporters are hanging their hopes that the anti-incumbent pro-outsider vibe that’s roiling the political landscape this year will propel her to victory. That probably won’t come to pass as Lee’s approval ratings in Utah are high enough that he won’t be vulnerable to any sort of voter backlash this year. A January UtahPolicy.com survey found Lee with a 65% approval rating. 26% of Utahns said they disapproved of Lee’s job performance, which gives him a net-positive rating of 39%. That usually portends an incumbent’s re-election.
Want to know how little enthusiasm there is for a Democrat running for U.S. Senate. Jonathan Johnson, who got wallopped in the closed GOP primary for governor, managed to pull in more votes than Snow and Swinton combined in an election open to pretty much anyone who wanted to vote. Nobody really cares who the Democratic nominee is in this race because they’re simply going to be a sacrificial lamb aganist Mike Lee.
The biggest problem with Snow’s candidacy is she is probably the least-qualified candidate to run for U.S. Senate in the past four decades. Snow’s day job as a grocery store cashier is cringe-worthy when you compare it to other Utah Democrats who ran for Senate. While no previous electoral experience should not disqualify someone from running, the last two Utah Democrats who ran for Senate with no previous electoral experience, Sam Granato, and Pete Ashdown, both got blown out by more experienced incumbents.
There is some danger for Mike Lee as he runs against Snow for a second term. While he can likely waltz to a win in November, he does have to be careful how he treats Snow on the campaign trail. He needs to pump up his bonafides without appearing “mean” or condescending to his opponent.
I expect Lee will debate Snow head-to-head just one time as part of the Utah Debate Commission program. During that discussion, he would be wise to mostly ignore Snow, instead spending his time focusing on his accomplishments and talking points. He will probably run some television advertising, just to keep his name in front of Utah voters. Snow will likely not have enough money to get on TV so Lee will have that communication channel all to himself.
In the end, Snow will put up an admirable fight, but she will join the list of failed Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate.