Bryan Schott’s Political BS: A Defining Issue

Memo to Utah’s Democrats: Check yourself!


Yes, it was a nice surprise for you to see that internal poll from Doug Owens’ campaign showing him down 9 points to Mia Love. I admit I was a little shocked when I saw it. I thought Love would be ahead by double digits.

Yes, Love’s support among likely voters in the poll is just 50%. That should be a bit of a warning flag for Love because you want to see a number north of half.

But don’t buy into any declaration that Utah’s 4th Congressional District is “in play” for November’s elections. It’s not. It might be if everything falls in Owens’ direction, but I just don’t see that happening.

Owens is still down 9-points. Remember, you only have to win by one vote. That’s a lot of ground to make up in 3 months in a district that is very, very Republican.

While this survey suggests ever so slightly that Owens might have a eensy-weensy chance against Love, it’s still nowhere as close as it needs to be, and time is running out. There are just over 90 days left before voters head to the polls. That means Owens needs to make up a percentage point every 10 days just to pull even. That’s a tough hill to climb.

Then there’s the campaign cash factor. Owens has less than a ¼ of what Love has in the bank. This poll may help Owens attract more money, but it will also have the effect of goosing Mia Love’s fundraising as well – not that she needs much more incentive to pull in the cash. Study after study shows the Congressional candidate that spends the most money wins their race virtually every single time.

Then there’s the issue of name recognition. About ¾ of the voters in this survey had no idea who Owens is. That’s not surprising given he’s a first time candidate. That’s also alarming because of the short time until voters go to vote. If the electorate doesn’t know who you are, how can you expect them to vote for you?

A lot of political campaigns are about who is defining things. If you can define yourself before your opponent defines you, that’s a huge tactical advantage. That high number of voters who don’t know who Owens is suggests he, and his candidacy, haven’t been defined yet.

We’ve seen some fledgling attempts by Owens to try and define Mia Love. During a recent press conference, he mentioned last year’s government shutdown, and tangentally Love’s support for the action, a dozen times.

That might work, but Owens really needs to focus on defining himself before Love can paint him in unflattering terms.

I remember the first race between Jim Matheson and John Swallow. Matheson ran television ads showing him shaking hands and walking with then-President George W. Bush. It was a brilliant move. Matheson was able to tie himself to a popular Republican president – this was after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when Bush’s popularity was sky high.

Even though Swallow was a Republican and had the natural party affiliation with Bush, Matheson was able to suggest in the minds of voters that he had closer ties to Bush. That move cut Swallow off at the knees. He was trying to make the case that Matheson was too liberal for Utah, but Matheson was able to successfuly suggest otherwise in the media. Those television ads did more to burnish Matheson’s bi-partisan bonafides than anything else he could have done that year.

This is a critical time for Owens. He needs to define how his candidacy is viewed, but I’m not sure he’s in a position to do that. Sure, he has reserved television time starting in September, but he hasn’t paid for those ads yet. Meanwhile, Love has an blitz already paid for that will start around the same time. Those competing ads won’t do much to move the needle. Owens small window of opportunity is now. If he waits, he’s toast.

9-points is tantalizingly close for Utah’s Democrats, and frustratingly far away at the same time. It’s not a double-digit deficit, which means there’s hope – in a Lloyd Christmas kind of way.

Maybe Owens does have a chance. Maybe he can pull off an upset of major proportions. Maybe he gets lucky and Love commits a major gaffe. Maybe he catches lightning in a bottle.

But, as Wayne Campbell so eloquently said.