Lessons for Utah from Georgia’s special election

Legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was right. All politics is local.

That’s the lesson Utah Democrats better learn, and quick, if they think they’re going to turn around their fortunes in Utah.

Look at what happened Tuesday night in Georgia. Democrat John Ossoff lost a winnable seat to Republican Karen Handel. That victory for the Republicans put a very fine point on it – outrage about President Trump and his policies is not going to be enough to win.

Candidates matter in these elections, and you have to find candidates that can win. You also have to find candidates that fit well with the district. That’s politics 101.

Look at the special election in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. Republicans have three candidates in the mix for the August primary, all of whom reflect a large portion of the population in that area.

John Curtis, the popular Provo Mayor, has the broadest base of support there, appealing to moderate Republicans, independents and  even some Democrats.

Chris Herrod, who won the GOP delegate vote this past weekend is representative of the hard-core conservative/libertarian element that is so prevalent in the district. It doesn’t tax the imagination at all to imagine Herrod winning.

Even Tanner Ainge, the political newcomer, matches the makeup of the district. He’s young and connected to the growing tech sector in the area. It also doesn’t hurt that his father is BYU basketball royalty.

I would not be shocked if any of those three emerged from the GOP primary in August.

Then there’s Democrat Kathie Allen. She’s a progressive from Cottonwood Heights, hardly the first thing you think of when the 3rd CD comes to mind. That’s why, despite her incredible fundraising, she’s going to get smashed in November, and the seat will remain in Republican hands. It will take one of the biggest “wave elections” in American history to propel her to a victory.

Sure, it’s not Allen’s fault that she doesn’t match the district she’s hoping to represent. You can thank Republican gerrymandering for that. The more liberal/progressive areas of Salt Lake County have been diluted to ensure a Republican win.

Fair or unfair, those are the rules everybody must play by. You have to field a team that has a shot at winning.

Progressives are screaming that Ossoff wasn’t liberal enough in Georgia, that he was too much like the Republican he was running against. That’s precisely the reason he came so tantalizingly close to winning. Had he gone “full Bernie Sanders,” he would have gotten crushed.

The new progressive movement churning through the Utah Democratic party right now wants to run hard to the left – if they talk about universal health care and free college for everybody, that’s the way to win in Utah. They’re spoiling for a fight with Republicans..other Democrats…pretty much everybody. They want to burn the whole thing down in the hopes that a system that favors them will rise from the ashes.

It’s a perfectly fine strategy if you want to keep losing. You don’t win elections in an overwhelmingly Republican state by screaming about a $15 minimum wage. You just don’t.

You can either make a point, or you can win. It’s not often you can do both. Progressive politics will make ’em swoon in Salt Lake City, but it just doesn’t play in Provo.