Why The Number 46,259 is Key in Utah’s 4th District

Utah master GOP strategist Dave Hansen is known for his meticulous political planning and campaign organization.


This year – as Hansen puts together a campaign plan for Mia Love in her quest to unseat Utah’s only Democratic congressman, Jim Matheson, in the relatively new 4th Congressional District – there’s one great challenge: How does Love, who would become the first GOP African-American woman in the U.S. House, ever, get the tens of thousands 4th District moderates who voted for Mitt Romney for president last year, but then switched parties and voted for Matheson, to come home to the Utah Republican Party?

It’s a question that has bamboozled state GOP leaders and Matheson’s Republican opponents for more than a decade, ever since the son of the late (and popular) Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson first won the old 2nd Congressional District back in 2000.

Hansen tells UtahPolicy that Romney – a Mormon and hero of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics – got 165,294 votes in the new 4thDistrict last year.

Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs in Utah County, got 119,035 votes (Matheson got 119,803).

So, Romney got 46,259 more votes in the 4th District than did Love.

If she had gotten just 770 of the Romney votes that went to Matheson, she would have won.

For Love and Hansen, those are maddening numbers.

Of course, Love and Hansen won’t run the same campaign in 2014 as she did in 2012.

Romney won’t be on the Utah ticket next year – no presidential race but he wouldn’t be in it if there were.

There isn’t a governor’s or U.S. Senate race in Utah next year, so the Love/Matheson match-up will likely be the ticket-leader.

(The three other GOP U.S. House members shouldn’t have much of a problem, although freshman Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, may have an intra-party challenger in the 2nd District.)

Hansen, while not criticizing directly the race that Love ran in 2012, said that this time around her campaign “will give voters a reason to vote for Mia – they will become comfortable with her.”

Love was perceived by 4th District voters as running a negative campaign, said Hansen. And that can prove to be problematic in Utah, where voters like to like their candidates.

“Mia has a great personal story – which many voters don’t know about,” said Hansen. Love’s parents came as students to America from the Caribbean and she was born in the U.S., thus making her a citizen.

Love lost “a whole lot” of the female vote, said Hansen. That demographic needs to be worked on.

And while some women who voted for Romney, and then voted for Matheson – most likely white, Mormon moms – didn’t vote for Love (who is also a Mormon mom, but not white), Hansen doesn’t see race as a major player.

“I think on both sides of the (2012) vote, some people liked the idea of Utah having the first Republican African-American woman in Congress, others probably did not.”

Race may have been a small factor, says Hansen, but not a major one in 2012. And he doesn’t see it as a major factor in 2014, either.

“There were other factors” – other reasons – that Love lost last year, Hansen believes.

— The negative campaign that was run on both sides, but with the National Republican Congressional Committee pouring around $1 million into the race – mostly negative TV ads – that set some folks off of Love.

— Love’s own life story was not emphasized. “She has as great story to tell, and we will tell it.”

— There was a real fall-off for Love among women voters. Part of that could be the negative campaign; part of it could be that 4thDistrict women didn’t know Love’s personal story – including that she is a convert to the LDS Church and today a faithful member.

Many Utah political observers (including that know-nothing Bob Bernick) thought Love – with a whole lot of backing from national Republicans – would unseat Matheson last year.

The moderate-to-conservative Democrat (he’s got his own party riled up over his constant voting to repeal Obamacare, among other conservative ideals) had jumped from his old 2nd District – much-changed via redistricting by the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature – to run in the new 4th District (an extra seat Utah gained because of its population growth relative to the rest of the nation).

Matheson doesn’t live in the 4th District, which gets most of its population from Salt Lake County’s westside and the northwest part of Utah County.

Under Utah law, a U.S. House member must be a resident of Utah, but doesn’t have to live in his district. Matheson lives in eastside Salt Lake City, near Hogle Zoo.

Earlier this year, a national GOP group ran for a brief time an anti-Matheson TV spot – just a few months after the November 2012 election.

Hansen doesn’t think Utahns will see another anti-Matheson TV or radio ad, however, before the end of this year.

By law, Hansen and Love can’t coordinate their campaign with any pro-Love or anti-Matheson outside groups. But you can be sure that Hansen’s dislike of anti-Matheson TV ads have gotten to folks who need to understand.

Outside of an announcement that she’s running again, Love has kept kind of a low profile.

“She’s doing groundwork,” said Hansen, “meeting with groups like the Lehi Rotary Club,” and talking to a lot of 4th District folks.

She has already released her second-quarter fund raising, and is matching Matheson’s efforts in money.

But Matheson has kept his seat in red-voting Utah by working very hard between elections.

His standard phrase: “I take nothing for granted.”

He has little to do with national Democrats – has never attended the every-four-years National Democratic Convention; prides himself with an independent voting record; and usually out-spends and out-organizes his GOP opponent.

This summer may be quiet on the 4th District front – but there’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes.

And you can bet much attention is focused on the number 46,259.