Bryan Schott’s Political BS: Building Momentum

As Dan Rather would say, “Katie bar the door!”

It’s clear the race between Doug Owens and Mia Love is tightening up. Owens has a ton of momentum right now, and that could spell trouble for Republicans down the ticket in Utah’s 4th District.

Why? Turnout.

If Democrats think Owens has a chance against Love, they have motivation to head to the polls on election day. Midterm elections are usually low turnout, which tends to favor Republicans. If the Love/Owens race is exciting enough, it could bring more Democrats to the polls than normally would vote.

“We’re a fickle bunch,” says party Executive Director Matt Lyon. “We’re easily swayed – either up or down.”

If they’re up, that could bolster their chances in some legislative races even if Owens fails to close the final gap with Love. Democrats going to the polls could tip the scales in these important contests – which could lead to pickups on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

In fact, many of their targeted races this year just happen to overlap with Utah’s 4th District. Democrats think they have a legitimate chance to win in these seats:

  • Senate 12 – Claire Collard (D) vs. Daniel Thatcher (R)

  • House 30 – Mike Lee (D) vs. Fred Cox (R)

  • House 43 – Diane Lewis (D) vs. Earl Tanner (R)

  • House 44 – Christine Passey (D) vs. Bruce Cutler (R)

  • House 49 – Zach Robinson (D) vs. Robert Spendlove (R)

Even if Owens doesn’t win against Love, the excitement generated by a close race is something that could help Utah’s Democrats.

If I were Republicans in those districts, I’d be getting worried right now. Democrats probably won’t win all of them, but they could pick off one or two. That might be enough to make a modest gain on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

Momentum is a very dangerous thing, and right now Owens has it. Polls show he’s gaining on Love. Public perception is he’s gaining. The media thinks he’s gaining. The only people who don’t think he’s closing are on Mia Love’s campaign.

Does that mean he has coattails? Maybe. I wouldn’t bet against it, but I also don’t think they’re very long. Owens won’t drag Democrats across the finish line, but he could provide enough of a boost to get a few of them there.

Our previous polling shows Mia Love has high unfavorable ratings from voters in the 4th District. She’s probably at the ceiling of her support. There’s nowhere for her to increase her lead. In August we showed her at 44% support. A few weeks ago she was at 49. That’s not much of an increase. Love could win this race with 49%. She probably won’t get more than 51 or 52% in a winning effort.

My guess is Love’s overall campaign strategy has been to build a big lead, then hang on while, at the same time, hoping your opponent doesn’t catch fire. That works most of the time, but it looks like Owens is catching fire.

The only question is did he ignite soon enough?

I remember the race in 2002 between Rep. Jim Matheson and John Swallow. Matheson had a lead most of the race until right at the end when Swallow came on strong. He fell short by 1,600 votes and many observers thought he might have won if he had another week or two to campaign.

Remember when Owens’ campaign delayed his media buy for a week? That’s a week they can’t get back. It’s hard to quantify how many votes they may have lost because Love was on the air before them, but it might be a critical decision that comes back to haunt them if they end up losing by a slim margin.

Owens may not win. But he could make it very uncomfortable for Republicans come Tuesday night.