Editor’s Note: UtahPolicy.com is reviewing several Utah legislative races this general election, with an eye toward those which have been close in the past in final vote counts.
As Utah Democratic leaders look to win a few more Utah House races this election, perhaps the most vulnerable GOP incumbent is long-time representative Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who won re-election in 2018 by just 118 votes, 50.7-49.3 percent out of 8,610 cast.
This year, Hutchings is being challenged by Democrat Ashlee Matthews, who for the last nine years has worked as a Utah Department of Transportation maintenance employee.
Hutchings’ District 38, the map is here, has been changing over time, with more and more minorities moving into the Salt Lake County westside neighborhoods. More district voters are political independents, rather than Republicans or Democrats.
He was first elected by Democratic delegates to fill an open seat way back in 2002, but switched to the Republican Party and has been successful as a moderate incumbent ever since.
Democratic Party leaders have been eyeing Hutchings for some time, hoping to pick up his seat. And, indeed, Democrats did unseat several GOP incumbents in Salt Lake County in the “blue wave” of 2018.
And if 2018 Democratic candidate Edgar Cortez Harwood had had a little more campaign cash, he may have beaten Hutchings.
But Harwood only raised $5,680, and he spent all but $3.67.
Two years ago, Hutchings raised $41,805. That’s good for a Utah House campaign.
But he only spent $13,980 on his re-election bid, leaving him more than $27,000 in cash in his account. In hindsight, that probably was a mistake, for he barely won re-election.
Harwood got just under $2,000 from the Utah House Democratic PAC. If the party and House incumbent Democrats had given Harwood more campaign cash, they may have gotten Hutchings -- who it must be said is well-liked by House Democrats, but not one of their own.
Hutchings has worked across the aisle for his main legislative efforts, especially leading out in reforming the state’s criminal justice system/prison and drug enforcement efforts.
But even if they like him, Democrats still need to get more Utah House seats, as just several years ago they were at record low minority status in the 75-member body. Today there are just 16 Democrats in the House, and the 59-member House GOP caucus can do, and does, about anything politically they wish.
As of the pre-primary financial filings this year, Hutchings has raised $35,271, spent $3,931, and has $31,340 in cash as he heads into the final run before the Nov. 3 general election.
Both Hutchings and Matthews had no opposition within their own parties, and there are no third-party or independent candidates in the District 38 race, either.
That means they could save their money for the final showdown.
Hutchings told UtahPolicy on Monday that he was saving campaign cash late in the 2018 election expecting he would piggy-back on then-GOP U.S. Rep. Mia Love’s campaign. But that offer of cooperation never came, he said. Love “ran one of the worst campaigns ever,” said Hutchings; she lost a narrow race to now-Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams.
Hutchings said he’s not making the same mistake this year. “I’m going full bore” on his own race, even though he hasn’t been fundraising much. “I’m using a lot of social media. It’s weird this year” because of the coronavirus. “You can’t hold townhall meetings, no one wants to come. You can’t knock on doors, no one wants to talk to you face-to-face on their doorstep.”
But he doesn’t expect a close outcome like two years ago. “I’ll be just fine.”
Still, Matthews isn’t doing much better than Harwood did two years ago -- latest filings show she has raised $5,276, spent $1,364, and has only $3,911 in cash as she prepares to face Hutchings’ campaign, which has more than $31,000 in cash.
Utah has no campaign donation limits. So Democrats can pour any amount of cash into Matthews’ campaign, either from PACs, or wealthy donors.
But so far we aren’t seeing such large donations coming to her. She has few donations over $100. And without a significant change in that, she likely can’t beat Hutchings -- who after his 2018 scare of just a 118-vote win can’t afford to keep as much money in cash in his account as he did after that contest.
Matthews didn’t return messages from UtahPolicy for comment by publication time.
It is a bit odd that Hutchings' pre-primary financial disclosure filing shows that he raised NO money between the April convention and the June 30 primary. None.
And Hutchings has raised only $500 this year in total.
Yes, $31,000 is a goodly amount on which to run a final Utah House race, especially on the county’s west side, where races historically don’t reach the high cash-spending numbers seen on heavily-contested eastside districts.
And Hutchings can still get some big-buck donations from his own Republican Party, both in PACs and party entities, by making a few phone calls.
With Matthews’ little money, and Hutchings not fundraising yet, clearly the District 38 race has not started this year.
The question is, how will it end?
Here is a District 38 partisan make-up, as compiled by L2 Political, an election campaign data firm that often provides analysis to UtahPolicy.com.
As you can see, four years ago Democrat Hillary Clinton actually beat GOP President Donald Trump in the district:
Active voters (April 2020 voter file):
Republican - 31.1%
Democrat - 21.7%
Unaffiliated - 42.8%
2012 Presidential election
Romney - 59.6%
Obama - 37.2%
2016 presidential election
Clinton - 37.4%
Trump - 33.3%
McMullin - 21.2%
2018 U.S. Senate vote:
Wilson - 42.8%
Prop. 2 (legalizing medical marijuana) passed in the district with 67.7%
Prop. 3 (Medicaid expansion) passed with 58.9%
Prop. 4 (establishing an independent redistricting commission) passed with 52.7%