4th District Debate Fails to Sway Voters

If one’s goal in a major political televised debate is not to make any really stupid mistakes, not to show yourself as inarticulate or ignorant of the issues, then Tuesday night’s 4th Congressional District fest between Mia Love and Doug Owens was a success for both parties.

But if one wanted to make some points with voter groups you really have to do better with, well, again, both candidates fell flat.

That’s not to say Love and Owens didn’t show well in the Utah Debate Commission’s final event of this election cycle, held in the KUED Channel 7 studios on the University of Utah campus and moderated by the always debonair, well-versed Ken Verdoia.

No. Both candidates looked, sounded well.

And Love was especially effective in her final closing statement. I almost stood up and saluted.

But as shown in a UtahPolicy poll on the 4th District race released Monday – Love leads Owens among all likely voters 49-40 percent – each candidate needs to do better among certain classes of voters.

And Tuesday night neither Owens – who really needed to stand out in this debate – and Love made what I would call direct, effective attempts to reach those folks.

Maybe a televised debate is not the medium for such appeals.

Maybe targeted TV or radio ads, or direct mail or even in-house telephone calls, are best.

In any case, here’s an analysis:

— Owens needs to get more of the political independent vote. The poll shows he has 50 percent of that vote; he needs around 60 percent.

— He needs to get more of the male vote. Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found Love leads Owens among male voters 51-38, but only 46-42 among women voters.

— Love needs to take some GOP votes away from Owens. Jones found that Owens is getting 12 percent of the GOP vote, while Love is getting only 3 percent of the Democratic vote.

— And she needs to drive up his “negatives” while bringing down her own rather high unfavorable ratings.

Jones found that 41 percent of 4th District voters have an unfavorable opinion of Love; while only 23 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Owens.

Love didn’t do anything Tuesday night to drive up Owens’ negatives.

Hey, she didn’t even call him a “Democratic” – something he can hardly deny.

She barely mentioned him at all.

Owens must have recalled last October’s federal government shutdown a dozen times during the debate.

But he didn’t directly, or forcefully, say Love supported it.

He could have said something like: “While many Utah families and businesses tied to our national parks suffered because of the shutdown, Mia Love was attending a rally supporting our right-wing U.S. Sen. Mike Lee – who was partly to blame for the shutdown.”

As much as Owens was trying to paint Love as a radical, partisan, Tea Party nut cake (he didn’t use those words, although maybe he should have), Love was talking about how reasonable and nonpartisan she was as mayor of Saratoga Springs.

Owens was much tougher on Love during their last debate (can anyone remember back that long ago?), last May before the Utah Taxpayers Association.

Many thought he would come out hammering again Tuesday.

But he didn’t.

Perhaps he’s holding off for the yet-unscheduled KSL Radio debate on the morning Doug Wright show.

But that is not prime time.

It is not TV.

And it certainly won’t get the audience that was available Tuesday night.

Yes, Owens did mention several times in the KUED debate how his late father – former Congressman Wayne Owens — worked with U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn, both R-Utah, to get programs important to Utah passed in Congress.

He noted how current 4th District Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson worked with former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, in getting a Washington County land exchange.

He can do that in Congress, said Owens.

Love countered with how well she worked with Saratoga Springs councilmembers – to solve real problems.

But Congress today is a whole other dog – or is dog fight a better description.

There were some differences Owens and Love did try to make:

— Owens said you don’t want a congresswoman who wants to dump the whole federal Department of Education, which one way or the other provides 11 percent of Utah’s public school money.

— Even though Owens is running TV ads showing Love saying that in her 2012 race, Love saidTuesday she doesn’t want to dump the federal department, but does want any federal education monies to come to Utah with no federal strings attached.

— Owens says he supports the U.S. Senate immigration reform bill that Hatch voted for, which in certain circumstances provides a pathway to amnesty for the 11.5 million illegals now living in the U.S.

— Love never answered Verdoia’s amnesty question directly, even though she was given two opportunities to do so.

— Owens tried to pin Love down on, again in a 2012 statement, where she appeared to say she opposes federal college student loan programs, even though she used such loans to get herself through college.

— Love said she recognizes the need for such loans, but wants the federal government out of the process, believing the private sector can do a better job.

— Owens several times said Love held extreme views outside of Utah’s mainstream.

— And Love did get a zinger in saying if being against $17 trillion in federal debt, being against Obamacare are extreme positions, then she agrees she’s extreme, as are most Utahns.

But Owens didn’t take advantage of some of Love’s weaknesses, as pointed out in the UtahPolicy poll.

He didn’t say that 41 percent of Utahns have an unfavorable opinion of Love, and for good reason – she wants to stop student loans, remove 11 percent of public school funding and supports shutting down the federal government over partisan bickering.

For her part, Love didn’t say that Republicans who vote for Owens (he has about 12 percent now) are nuts, he’ll just go back to Congress and vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker – if Democrats take control of the House.

While it didn’t happen in Tuesday’s debate, things are going to have to heat up in the race for Owens to have any chance.

Owens needs to close the 9-percentage point gap between himself and Love, and do it in three weeks.

He didn’t get even close to that goal in Tuesday’s debate.

We’ll see how he goes about it in the weeks ahead.