Assuming Democrat Ben McAdams’ 739-vote lead over GOP Rep. Mia Love holds up in the final Tuesday canvas, the U.S. House “blue wave” did indeed hit Utah.
And it is nothing short of a shocking loss for national Republicans in the very red State of Utah.
The Utah District 4 defeat of Love comes on the heels of Democrats sweeping Republicans out of U.S. House seats in Orange County – which used to be a Republican stronghold in California.
And Democrats won control of the U.S. House by flipping nearly 40 Republican-held seats. Quite astounding.
Readers and viewers of UtahPolicy.com may remember that months ago I said if McAdams was going to win his race this year, the final count could well be under 1,000 votes.
Yep. You heard it here first.
But the simple fact is, this contest shouldn’t have been that close.
In fact, Love should have won re-election going away.
Various national pundits put Utah’s 4th District at +13 points to +20 points Republican.
So Love way, way underperformed in 2018.
What conclusions can we draw from this race:
McAdams should be in fairly good form to hold the seat in 2020.
President Donald Trump is not popular in the 4th District – even with heavily Republican Utah County’s part of the district, Trump had a 60 percent DISAPPROVAL rating in the 4th District earlier this year.
That is way, way bad for any Trump-supporting Republican to have a chance at McAdams in two years.
Of course, if House majority Democrats do things that really anger 4th District voters, McAdams would have more problems in re-election.
But if it ends up Trump is indicted by the special counsel Robert Mueller, or is an unindicted co-conspirator in an obstruction of justice finding, if it turns out he hasn’t paid taxes in years or his businesses were funded by Russian money, then any GOP challenger to McAdams could be starting way behind the curve in two years.
And if Trump escapes all of that, and is the Republican presidential nominee in 2020, well, unless he becomes much more popular in the 4th District, I don’t see a Trump-supporting GOP nominee in that district doing any better than Love this year.
McAdams victory does leave open the Democratic nomination for governor in 2020. McAdams would have been the logical choice for Utah Democrats.
But he clearly can’t jump out of one-term in the U.S. House – which is very partisan any way you look at it – and try for a statewide office in just two years.
Democrats haven’t won the governorship since the late Gov. Scott M. Matheson’s re-election in 1980.
In 2020, that will have been 40 years ago. Many Utah voters can’t even remember a time when a Republican was not holding the governor’s office.
But Democrats have held U.S. House seats in Utah – Matheson’s son, Jim, held a House seat for more than a decade.
Love’s defeat all but ensures that the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature will take some action against Prop 4 – which also seems to be hanging on for a close victory.
That “Better Boundaries” proposition sets up an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission that – under the strict language of the new law – would basically force the GOP Legislature to adopt the independent commission’s redrawing plan after the 2020 national Census.
National Republicans will put a lot of pressure on Utah GOP leaders to gut the new redistricting commission or repeal the law altogether.
And I’m guessing the 2019 Republican-controlled Legislature will break the voters’ will and gut the new boundary commission.
The easiest way to do that will be to just have a bipartisan commission make a recommendation to the Legislature – with lawmakers able to just ignore it at their will.
And that is what they would do. Without the Better Boundaries new law, watch for Republicans in the Legislature to gerrymander the four U.S. House seats again in 2021 just as badly as they did in 2001 and 2011.
McAdams taking a +20 GOP district means Utah Republican leaders will have to be even more partisan and heavy-handed in the Legislature’s 2021 redistricting.
No kid gloves in Utah redistricting after Trump 2020 – no matter how he ends up.