I am genuinely worried about the Utah Democratic Party.
I had occasion to attend a couple of their annual events earlier this month – the "Politisauce" fundraiser and the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention.
During casual conversation, the phrase I heard most from Utah's Democrats was "This state has got to change sometime." Change from the Republican-dominated reality. Change to being more hospitable to Democrats.
It's a delusional hope borne from years of wandering in the electoral desert.
They say it's always darkest before the dawn. From what I saw at those events, Utah's minority party is still in deepest, darkest midnight – and they only have themselves to blame.
Their fervent hope is that Jim Matheson will run for Governor or U.S. Senate in 2016. Our polling shows Matheson might give Sen. Mike Lee a tough race next year, but the gubernatorial race seems like a more difficult task.
That's IF Matheson decides to run. I don't think he will. Sure, he has nearly $500,000 in his campaign war chest, but every move he's made so far points toward him sitting out next year. He's not raising any money. He joined a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm. He joined the board of Sallie Mae. That doesn't sound like a man who is gearing up for another campaign anytime soon.
If Matheson is out, Democrats are in deep trouble for sure. The other big name in the party, Ben McAdams, is probably going to run for another term as Salt Lake County Mayor.
Who then, is left? Sure there's Party Chair Peter Corroon, but I don't get the sense he's ready to mount another campaign after losing his bid for Governor in 2010.
Doug Owens? Maybe. He came close to defeating Mia Love in 2014, but it will be harder to oust her in 2016. That kind of loss is haunting, but will it be motivation enough for him to take another run?
So, somehow Democrats are going to have to come up with viable candidates for all of these offices in 2016:
All 4 Congressional seats
14 of the 15 State Senate seats up for election (Luz Robles is the only incumbent facing a challenge)
63 of the 75 State House seats (They hold 12 right now and this number assumes no retirements from their caucus)
That's a heck of a lot of candidates. Granted, the down-ballot slots will be easier to fill. But who will be the Democratic standard-bearers in those top-of-the ballot contests? I'm sure they'll find someone, but the phrase cannon fodder comes to mind.
So, when is this state going to change?
Right now, the Utah Republican Party seems determined to self-destruct. The new candidate vetting system they are floating has the potential to be a PR nightmare. It's already causing infighting among party members. That division creates an opening, however small, for the Democrats to make some gains.
If the Democratic Party in Utah were in any better shape, they might be able to take advantage of that window. But, they are at such a nadir, they probably won't.
If you look at "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs," the Utah Democrats are still existing at the bottom of the scale. They're too concerned with what they need to survive and for their safety to focus on the other areas. Until they can secure those two, they can't even begin to think about the others – love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. How can they even talk about thriving when they are barely surviving?
Utah's Democrats are a party in stasis. They're not losing ground, but they're not gaining any either. In their precarious position, they're in danger of sliding backwards by doing nothing. It will take much more energy to move forward.