One of the people considering a run in 2020 for the now-open 1st Congressional District seat is Scott Simpson – who may not be a household name to northern Utah GOP voters, but is certainly well thought of inside Utah Republican politics.
Simpson for the last 16 years has been the head of the Utah Credit Union Association, and has lobbied on Utah’s Capitol Hill for that group.
But 1998 through 2002 he was the executive director of the Utah Republican Party, and was hired into that post by then-party chair Rob Bishop.
And, of course, Bishop is the long-time 1st District U.S. House congressman who is retiring from the House the end of next year – that confirmation by him coming last week.
So Simpson, among others, is looking to replace him.
In an extended UtahPolicy.com interview Monday, Simpson said he has not yet decided whether to run for the 1st District next year. He thinks an announcement for any such candidate should come before the 2019 holidays at year’s end.
But for any serious would-be candidate, groundwork should have already started, said Simpson.
That means putting together campaign teams and setting up a strategy – something Simpson did firsthand for any number of candidates when he was the state party executive director so many years ago.
Of course, politics has changed since then – even in Utah it has gotten tougher, more strident.
And the last two election cycles of SB54, with the dual-route to the primary by gathering signatures and/or going to the traditional delegate convention, have greatly changed the playing field, says Simpson.
“I’m a fan of the beauty” of the old caucus/delegate/convention system, says Simpson.
But the political reality today is that the convention process alone has almost become a “poisonous vessel,” where just about anything can happen in convention even if a diligent candidate has planned it out well.
Any candidate who is serious about his goals, his desire to win and serve the public, is obligated to take the signature route (and perhaps along with the convention route, too), Simpson believes.
“You have to take every route, every opportunity, to get elected,” said Simpson, or why else are you even bothering to run?
“You really can’t sacrifice yourself on the alter of the caucus/convention system,” by just taking that route alone, he says.
The special election in the 3rd Congressional District back in the fall of 2017 showed that some “really good, bright candidates” who only took the convention route were eliminated, and that taught all serious candidates a political lesson.
Ultimately, now-Rep. John Curtis, who was eliminated in the convention by right-wing delegates, but gathered signatures, won the primary election by handily beating the convention nominee, Chris Herrod.
If there is no wealthy GOP candidate in the 1st District next year – “who can just write a check” to fund his primary campaign, says Simpson – then the primary race should cost around $250,000.
And if he gets in the race, he must expect that kind of campaign budget.
The 1st District is heavily Republican, and money should be no real problem after the GOP nominee is picked – almost certainly in the primary as more than two candidates will gather the 7,000 voter signatures to make the ballot, on top of one or two coming out of the delegate convention.
“Rob has been one of the worst fundraisers” in Utah congressional history, joked Simpson. “And that should be a badge of honor, not just for him but for the 1stDistrict as a whole.”
Candidates in that northern district have not needed “gobs” of money to get voters to listen to them and to get their political messages across.
Simpson does have one political concern, should he get in the race, that other candidates wouldn’t: Possible lingering insider political animosity left over from the bitter credit union/bank fights in the Utah Legislature of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
That’s a long time ago, admittedly.
But a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of political capital, was spent in those fights – with a few legislators losing their seats (and winning them back later) over the bank/credit union bare-knuckle political brawls.
In fact, Simpson said it may be “probable” that should he run there could be some opposition to him just because of those long-held hard feelings.
For now, Simpson is biding his time, planning, and watching other possible candidates.
He’s not in. But he is strategizing, talking to folks, as UtahPolicy.com has heard.