The Owens/Love Race is Far From Over

Mia Love Doug OwensThere’s something really weird going on in Utah’s 4th Congressional District race that leads me to believe it’s going to be closer than expected come November.

Polling shows Mia Love with a double-digit lead over Doug Owens. When you’re that far ahead this late in the race, Love should be cruising toward a second term.

And yet, all available data suggests it could be a barn burner to election day.

First of all, look at the advertising. Mia Love has launched negative ads against Owens. If you’re ahead by double digits, you don’t need to go negative. In fact, if your lead is that safe, there’s no reason to mention your opponent at all.

But, Mia Love has attacked Owens for donating to Hillary Clinton and for his role in the Legacy Highway litigation.

The only reason I can think of for the tone of those ads is Love’s campaign either wants to finish off Owens permanently, or they’re worried Owens is poised to make a late run at Love, much like he did in 2014. You’ll remember that Owens simply ran out of time in 2014. Had the election gone a few more weeks, it’s likely Owens would have caught her.

There’s also the House Majority PAC. Nancy Pelosi’s group reserved $383,000 of ad time in August. There’s an important distinction between reserving and buying campaign ads. When an entity reserves the time, they don’t pay unless they use it. If a race is not competitive, you’ll see groups release that time to shift money and resources to more competitive races.

The deadline for the House Majority PAC to release the ad time passed earlier this week, meaning they’re locked in for those commercials. If the race were trending toward a significant win for Love, you would see that PAC abandon the ad time. Political action committees don’t make big ad buys out of the goodness of their heart, especially for a candidate who lost the last time around. The only way to read this information is they have some indication that Owens has a good chance of upending Love.

Additionally, two GOP PACs plan to dump $500,000 into the race to support Love’s re-election bid. That money simply would not flow to Utah if there weren’t an indication that Love might be vulnerable. You don’t shore up what is already sturdy.

Then there are the polls.

At first blush, Love has a big lead no matter how you slice it. In a survey from August, Love leads by 13 points. In the Utah Debate Commission survey, her lead over Owens was 19-points.

But, there is a danger for Love.

If you look at those two polls, you’ll see she is at 51% in the survey, and 49% in the Utah Debate Commission poll.

Those numbers for her are eerily similar to where she was in 2012 and 2014. In 2012, she won 48.5% of the ballot when she lost to Jim Matheson. In 2014, she got 50.9% in a win over Doug Owens. That suggests her support has topped out.

Even Love’s own internal poll from July had her at 51%. Another internal poll, from the Owens campaign, put Love at 50%.

That’s a remarkable consistency. If those numbers hold, it shows Love has failed to expand her base of support much, if at all.

All of those factors suggest this year’s election could turn into a nail-biter over the final three weeks.