Kay King on the hotly contested race for the 4th Congressional District in Utah:
4th Congressional District of Utah: The Hottest Mormon vs Mormon House Race
One of the most interesting and intense congressional races in the entire country in November 2012 involving LDS candidates is the 4th Congressional District in Utah (Soutwestern Salt Lake County, Utah County West of I-15, Nephi). On one side is incumbent LDS Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT 2001-present) who is one of the most, if not the most, endangered Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds the most Republican district that is now represented by a Democrat (NYTimes: “2 Legislators on Tough Turf Try Delicate Run Down the Middle”). Matheson’s Republican challenger is Mia Love, a novice, a conservative Black Republican and a Mormon. The national press has already identified this as one of the key congressional races to watch, and this is the most interesting and most highly contested House race involving an LDS candidate.
Reapportionment and Redistricting for the New 4th District
Being in a tight election is nothing new for Jim Matheson. He has been in that situation since he was first elected to Congress twelve years ago. He is endangered because he is a moderate Democrat running in a state that is among the “reddest” in the country, and he is now facing an election in his third differently configured district. Each time the Republican-dominated Utah legislature has had an opportunity to redraw district boundaries, they have carefully gerrymandered his district in an attempt to eliminate him. Thus far the legislature has failed to get rid of him, but this time could well be his toughest race.
Matheson’s first race for Congress was in 2000 in 2nd District, which at the time was wholly in Salt Lake County. Before the 2000 election, the 2nd District had shifted back and forth between Democratic and Republican control for the previous fourteen years. It was represented by Dan Marriott (R-UT 1977-1985), David S. Monson (R-UT 1985-1987), Wayne Owens (D-1987-1993), Karen Shepherd (D-UT 1993-1995), Enid Green / Enid Green Waldholtz (R-UT 1995-1997), and Merrill Cook (R-UT 1997-2001). Matheson entered the race in 2000 when Merrill Cook was the incumbent. Cook had begun to exhibit erratic behavior and an explosive temper during his reelection contest in 1998. He was banned for a time from entering the State Republican headquarters after a profanity-laced tirade, and he fired his chief of staff after winning reelection in 1998. That staffer subsequently accused Cook of delusional behavior, and sent an e-mail to other office staff: “Merrill has taken up permanent residence in whacko land. If he asks you to fax his underwear to the speaker’s office, please just do it.” (USA Today: “Smith Upsets Incumbent Cook”).
The Republican establishment, fearing that Cook was vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenge, rallied behind Derek Smith, a wealthy businessman, but a political novice. Smith won the primary against Cook with 59% of the vote. He put a considerable amount of his personal wealth into the campaign, and national Republican money provided an additional million dollars in TV ads for Smith. Matheson, however, had the family name going for him (his father was a popular two-term Democratic governor of Utah, 1977-1985). Matheson staked out moderate positions on issues, opposed Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s prescription drug plan and supported Second Amendment gun rights. Matheson won the election 56% to 41% – although presidential candidate George W. Bush carried that congressional district with 57% of the vote in that same election.
The first attempt the Republican-dominated Utah legislature made to redistrict Matheson out of Congress came two years later when districts were redrawn after the 2000 census. For the previous decade (1992-2002) the 2nd District was completely within Salt Lake County, although the heavily Democratic areas of southwest Salt Lake County were joined with heavily Republican Utah County in the 3rd District to dilute the Democratic vote. In the redistricting for 2002, the legislature divided Salt Lake County so each of the three congressional districts would include a part of the urban center of the state. This was justified as an effort to assure that all three districts represented both urban and rural populations. The 2nd District was drawn to include the most affluent (and least Democratic) parts of Salt Lake County (areas east of I-15), in order to exclude the most heavily Democratic precincts. In addition heavily Republican rural areas were included in the district.
Despite the gerrymander and a well-financed and credible Republican candidate (a three-term Utah state House member) who received strong support from national Republican organizations, Matheson eked out a victory, winning 49.4% to 48.7%. Matheson won his race by the smallest margin of any Democratic member of Congress in the entire country in 2002.
In 2004 Matheson he won with an impressive 55%. He won again in 2006 with 59% – a year when Democrats did well nationally and regained the majority in the House and Senate. In 2008 Matheson won with an even more impressive 63% of the vote in the year that Republican presidential candidate John McCain won Matheson’s district by 57% over Barak Obama. In 2010, when Republicans were resurgent in Congress nationally, Matheson again won with a margin that was surprisingly good under the circumstances – 51% to 46%.
The next opportunity for the legislature’s Republican majority to redistrict Matheson out of Congress came after the 2010 census. The boundaries redrawn before the 2012 election took into account the addition of the fourth congressional seat for Utah. The committee responsible for developing the plan for redistricting had a 15-4 Republican majority, and the committee choose to deal with the boundaries issue without Democratic participation (Salt Lake Tribune: “Republicans move Utah redistricting talks behind closed doors”).
The final district boundaries divided Salt Lake County among three of the congressional districts. Democratic officials argued that creating a single district including the urban core of the Salt Lake Valley would better represent the unique urban concerns of the Salt Lake City and would not divide or water down Democratic votes (Salt Lake Tribune: “Favored redistricting map splits Salt Lake County three ways”). Matheson’s old district was divided and the most Democratic parts of it were split up. While the new districts of Bishop and Chaffetz retained the core of constituents from their previous districts, Matheson’s district was divided with 6% going to the 1st District, 32% to the 2nd District, 36% to the 3rd District and 26% to the 4th District (Deseret News: “Rep. Jim Matheson jumps to 4th Congressional District for re-election).
Two columnists for the Deseret News (yes, the Deseret News) were critical of the unfairness of the process and the favoritism toward Bishop and Chaffetz in contrast to the prejudice against Matheson (Deseret News: “Was Utah’s redistricting process fair and open?”)
Office-holders expend resources and effort to be elected, and they deserve (and the constituents they serve are entitled) to have incumbency a consideration when redrawing boundaries. This factor was utilized for state legislative districts and for Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Yet, Rep. Jim Matheson’s current constituents were not extended such courtesy. Removing the east bench Republican districts — which Matheson served well for a decade — and substituting them for southern Davis County was a capricious act. After numerous inquiries to my Republican friends, I still await a credible (and non-power politics) rationale. This is a terrible blemish on an otherwise ecumenical process.
As the legislature began redrawing districts in the fall of 2011, Matheson attempted to put pressure on the Republican redistricting effort by suggesting that he might run for U.S. Senate or for governor of Utah if there were not a suitable Congressional district for him. As the most prominent Democrat in the state, his threat to run against Republicans Orrin Hatch (or another Republican Senate candidate, since the Hatch reelection effort was still up in the air at this point) or governor Gary R. Hebert, who would also be up for reelection in 2012, was a threat that carried some weight. There were indications that at least the governor was concerned (Salt Lake Tribune: “Matheson looms over redistricting debate” and The Hill: “Utah Republicans target Matheson with map; could lead to statewide run”). When the battle was over, the Republicans in the state legislature made few if any concessions favorable to the state’s lone Democrat.
When the boundaries were announced, Matheson ultimately made the decision to run for reelection in the 4th District. The difference was marginal in terms of it being a friendlier district than the redrawn 2nd, but the 4th District was the most compact of the four redrawn congressional districts, meaning at least travel would be less difficult (Deseret News: “Rep. Jim Matheson jumps to 4th Congressional District for re-election).
Matheson’s Position in 2012
Going into the 2012 election is there a possibility that Matheson can win reelection? Matheson has been fighting an uphill battle since his first election in 2000. His district, configured as it was from the 2002 to 2012 was the 50th most Republican district in the United States, and it is the most Republican district currently held by a Democrat. For comparison, Utah’s old 3rd District (held by Rep. Jason Chaffetz) is the 7th most Republican district in the country and Utah’s old 1st District (held by Rep. Rob Bishop) is the 13th most Republican in the country.] (Cook Political Report: Partisan Voting Index)
On the other hand, if any Democrat can win Utah’s new 4th District, it is Matheson. His biography and his voting record put him in as good a position as a Utah Democrat can be. He has deep LDS roots in the state and his family is prominent and well regarded. His father, Scott Matheson, was the last Democratic Governor of Utah (1977-1985). His brother Scott Matheson, Jr., was Democratic candidate for governor (2004) and lost the election to Jon Huntsman, Jr. Scott is currently a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and is former dean of the University of Utah’s S. J. Quinney College of Law.
On issues, Jim Matheson is one of the most conservative Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 2011 conservative/liberal rankings of House members, Matheson ranked 240 out of 435 Members of the House with only two Democrats having slightly more conservative records. He rated even higher in 2010 as the 204th most conservative and 203rd in 2009 (National Journal: Vote Ratings 2011). As the Congress has become increasingly polarized (particularly after the 2010 election which brought significant numbers of Tea Party conservatives to the House), the moderate middle has been squeezed, and Matheson has felt the pressure.
Mia Love, an Unconventional Republican Candidate
The Republican candidate running in the 4th District against Jim Matheson is Mia Love, the current mayor of the city of Saratoga Springs in Utah County. She is a most unlikely Republican nominee for Utah. Ludmya “Mia” Bourdeau was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Hatian immigrant parents and was raised in Connecticut. She graduated from the University of Hartford with a degree in Fine Arts and subsequently worked for private companies in Connecticut. While at university, she met Jason Love – then Elder Love, serving his Mormon mission in Connecticut. At the age of 23 in 1998 she moved to Utah, was baptized a member of the Church and married Love. They are parents of three children.
Mia Love became involved in politics when she was elected to the city council of their home town – Saratoga Springs. A fast-growing new city west of Lehi on the northwest side of Utah Lake named after the Saratoga hot springs which was located there. Incorporated only fifteen years ago, it has a current population estimated at 18,000. After six years on the city council, Love ran for mayor, and she has served in that position since 2010 (saratogaspringscity.com: “Mayor Mia Love, City of Saratoga Springs”; Wikipedia: “Mia Love”).
Love was surprisingly successful in winning the nomination for the 4th District at the Republican state convention in early 2012 by 70% percent of the delegate votes, thus avoiding the necessity of running in the Republican primary. She was not considered a likely candidate before the election; in fact, the Salt Lake Tribune called her win “a major upset.” There were three other candidates who were politically more experienced and better known than Love. Former state representative Carl Wimmer was elected to three terms in the Utah state House of Representatives (2007-2012) and resigned from the legislature to run for this congressional seat. Stephen Sandstrom, who served for 13 years on the Orem city council and also was elected to three terms in the Utah House of Representatives (2007-2012), also resigned from the legislature to run for the congressional seat. Another candidate with Washington political experience was Jay Cob, an attorney who practiced law in Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C., and was legislative counsel for U.S. Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT 1993-2011). In December 2011, four months before the state convention, a poll of 4th District registered Republican voters showed Love at 8% while both Wimmer and Sandstrom each polled 15% (Deseret News: “Rep. Jim Matheson leads all comers in Utah’s new 4th Congressional District, poll shows”).
Wimmer was the favored candidate of the Utah Republican establishment. He was endorsed by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT 2011-present), Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and several Utah state legislators. During the convention debate before the final vote for the 4th District seat, Attorney General Shurtleff spoke for Wimmer emphasizing his experience: “[P]lease pick a person with a proven record who can beat Jim Matheson this fall. Not a novelty.” After an outcry from the floor and after Love won the decisive vote overwhelmingly, Shurtleff attempted to explain himself to media, “My attitude was she’s brand new to this process, we need someone who is proven. Terrible choice of words.” (ABC4.com “Mark Shurtleff refers to Mia Love as ‘a novelty.’” Salt Lake Tribune: “Utah GOP Convention: Live Coverage.”)
In fact, Love’s victory may have had more to do with novelty than experience. In her speech prior to the final convention vote, she did not cite her experience as a reason to vote for her: “Today we have an opportunity to do something very special. Today we can start breaking a pattern. Today we can start bringing Jim Matheson home.” (Salt Lake Tribune: “Utah GOP Convention: Live Coverage.”)
Love has gained a great deal of attention because of her unusual biography – a conservative Black American Republican Mormon woman. In the year of Mitt Romney, Mormon Republican candidate for President running against Barak Obama, African-American Democratic incumbent, the LDS relationship with the Black community has been an undercurrent in a good deal of national news coverage. If elected, Love would be the first Black woman Republican ever elected to Congress. In Mormon terms, she would be the first LDS Black American of either sex elected, and she would also be only the third LDS woman elected to Congress.
The commitment of Republican congressional leaders and the Romney campaign to her contest is evident. She was given a coveted speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, in August (Christian Science Monitor: “Mia Love draws love from Republicans in Tampa”). With overtones of racism in the vehemence of Republican attacks on President Obama, Mia Love gave Republicans a brief opportunity to show diversity both in gender as well as race. This has been evident as well in the national press attention her candidacy has received in the Washington Post (“Mia Love of Utah hopes to become the first Republican black woman in Congress” ), the New York Times (“2 Legislators on tough turf try delicate Run down the middle”), the Los Angeles Times (“Mia Love breaks the GOP mold, but can she win?”), and other newspapers around the country.
Congressman (now VP candidate) Paul Ryan (R-WI) was in Utah in June stumping for Love at a fund raiser in Park City after appearing at a couple of Romney fund raising events (Deseret News: Rep. Paul Ryan courts fellow GOP members for Mia Love). Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) both made appearances in Utah in late October for her (Salt Lake Tribune: “Big Republican hitters coming to help Love at the finish”). Mitt Romney’s well-recognized voice, though not his image, appears in a Love commercial, and Ann Romney and Romney son Josh are also among the high-profile endorsers of Love (ABC News: “Romney Heard but Not Seen in Mia Love Ad”; Deseret News: “Romney heard, not seen in new ad for Mia Love”).
A Toss-Up Contest
A close race like the Matheson – Love contest would get considerable attention under any circumstance, but this year the race is getting extra attention because Republican numbers in the House of Representatives are expected to drop, and extra effort is going into any electoral contest which could be a Republican pick-up. Democrats are trying hard to increase their numbers in the House, and national Democratic organizations are putting major resources into tight races like Matheson’s in an effort to hold seats.
In fundraising reported through November 1, Matheson was ahead of Love in total funds raised and cash on hand. He had raised $2,180,185 while she had raised $1,979,201 (Utah Congressional Races 2012: Open Secrets). The race began with Matheson having a significant fundraising lead, but Love picked up speed and significantly outraised Matheson after July (Daily Herald: “Love doubles Matheson in House race fundraising”).
In addition to the candidates own campaign accounts, because of the importance of this particular race, both candidates will receive considerable assistance from the national parties. Love has already received pledges of support from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), including the reservation already of nearly $1 million for Salt Lake City television time in support of her campaign (Roll Call: “NRCC Reserves Airtime for Fall”). The national Democratic counterpart organization has reserved $400,000 of Salt Lake television time for Matheson’s campaign (Deseret News: “UEA endorses Rep. Jim Matheson in 4th Congressional District race”; Roll Call: “DCCC IE Backs John Barrow and Jim Matheson”). The Love-Matheson race is the hottest political contest in Utah this election cycle, and Matheson and Love ads dominate local TV coverage to the exclusion even of used car ads. A Provo newspaper observed “If you haven’t seen a television ad talking about the fourth congressional race, you probably don’t own a TV” (Daily Herald: “Polls are hard to read in Love, Matheson race).
The earliest polls suggest that Matheson’s name recognition helped. The first post-convention poll taken the second week of June (some six weeks after the Utah party conventions and five months before the election) indicated Matheson ahead of Love 53% to 38%. A late September Deseret News/KSL poll conducted by Dan Jones, however, showed Love with 49% and Matheson at 43% with a 5 point margin of error (Real Clear Politics; Deseret News: “Latest Poll: Mia Love pulls ahead of Jim Matheson in 4th District race”; Salt Lake Tribune: Poll: Matheson up 7 on Love”). The fact that Matheson is not above 50 percent is a problem for an incumbent, but there is still a significant undecided vote.
The 4th District in Utah promises to be one of the closest races in the country. It will not change the number of Latter-day Saints serving in the U.S. Congress, but it makes a difference for the party that wins the race.