Tag Archives: Utah

Senate Primary Challenges Getting Serious

Two states where veteran Senators are virtually assured of facing serious GOP primary challengers are Indiana and Utah, and news was made in both places over the weekend. Both incumbent sentaors Richard Lugar (IN) and Orrin Hatch (UT) were elected in 1976 and are each seeking a seventh six-year term.

The Lugar camp just released its own internal survey of the Indiana Republican electorate, in response to the Club for Growth’s late July poll that posted challenger Richard Mourdock, Indiana’s state treasurer, to a 34-32 percent lead. Lugar’s own data gives him a double-digit lead, but the 45-31 percent spread still suggests trouble for the long time incumbent. Failure to exceed 50 percent amongst one’s own political base is a warning sign for any office holder. Lugar’s American Viewpoint poll was taken during the same time as the Club for Growth survey, but was only now released publicly.

In Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3), long talked about as a challenger to Sen. Hatch, said this weekend that he was moving from “maybe” to “probably” in terms of making the challenge. He says he will finally decide after Labor Day. Both Hatch and Chaffetz must first obtain at least 40 percent of the Utah Republican Convention’s nominating ballots just to secure one of the two primary ballot positions. If a candidate reaches 60 percent of the convention vote, such person is officially nominated and there is no primary election. It is unlikely that either Hatch or Chaffetz can reach the nominating plateau. Hatch will have a huge resource advantage for the June primary — the Senator possesses $3.43 million in his campaign account compared to Chaffetz’s $227,145.
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The House Open Seats

As we approach the midway point in the national redistricting process, it is a good time to check the status of the House open seats. Because reapportionment creates a dozen new seats, the incumbent-less district count is already 29. An average election cycle features about 35 open seats, although the last two elections have broken the 40 mark. Should the proposed maps in California and North Carolina pass, at least three more vacancies will be added to the 2012 total. And if Utah Reps. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) along with Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) run statewide, as they are considering, then three more would be added.

To review, the following are the announced open seats:

AZ-6 Jeff Flake (R) Running for Senate
AZ-9 New Seat
CA-6 Lynn Woolsey (D) Retirement
CA-51 Bob Filner (D) Running for San Diego Mayor
CT-5 Chris Murphy (D) Running for Senate
FL-26 New Seat
FL-27 New Seat
GA-14 New Seat
HI-2 Mazie Hirono (D) Running for Senate
IN-2 Joe Donnelly (D) Running for Senate
IN-6 Mike Pence (R) Running for Governor
MO-2 Todd Akin (R) Running for Senate
MT-AL Denny Rehberg (R) Running for Senate
NV-1 Shelley Berkley (D) Running for Senate
NV-2 Vacant Rep. Dean Heller appointed to Senate
NV-4 New Seat
NM-1 Martin Heinrich (D) Running for Senate
NY-9 Vacant Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned
ND-AL Rick Berg (R) Running for Senate
OK-2 Dan Boren (D) Retirement
SC-7 New Seat
TX-14 Ron Paul (R) Running for President
TX-33 New Seat
TX-34 New Seat
TX-35 New Seat
TX-36 New Seat
UT-4 New Seat
WA-1 Jay Inslee (D) Running for Governor
WA-10 New Seat

Of the 29 open districts, 12 are new seats, nine current incumbents are running for Senate, two are running for governor, another pair are retiring from politics, one is seeking the U.S. Presidency, and one more is running for mayor of San Diego. Two members resigned their seats; one because of being appointed to the Senate; one due to scandal. Nine of the vacating incumbents are Democrats, six are Republicans. The two vacant seats split evenly, one from each party.

Most of the current seats will stay within the designated party control, but at least six (IN-2, Donnelly; MT-AL, Rehberg; NV-2, Vacant – special election Sept. 13; NM-1, Heinrich; OK-2, Boren; and TX-14, Paul) will likely join the competitive ranks.

With already a large number of open seats in the 2012 election cycle, it would not be surprising to see the total number approach 50 before filing closes in each of the states. Should this happen, added to the 97 members currently serving their first term, a full one-third of the House will have two terms of seniority or less in the next Congress.
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Poll Shows Utah’s Hatch Teetering

Public Policy Polling (July 8-10; 732 registered Utah voters) just confirmed the results of another Beehive State poll conducted last month. Both sets of data show six-term Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) facing serious re-election competition for the first time since originally winning his seat back in 1976. In fact, the new PPP data actually shows Hatch trailing Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) by a single point in a hypothetical general election showdown, 44-45 percent.

It was perceived that the senator’s toughest battle would come in the Republican nominating convention should Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) launch an intra-party challenge against him. Earlier polling predicted that Hatch would cruise to the nomination and re-election if he at least secured second ballot position at the convention. Now, the new polls suggest that every phase of his re-election battle is tight.

Neither Matheson nor Chaffetz has said definitively that they will run for the Senate. Matheson, the lone Democratic federal office holder in this most Republican of states, says he will be on the Utah ballot in 2012, but he is not sure for what office. He could certainly seek re-election, though the GOP map drawers will undoubtedly make his already strongly conservative district even more Republican. He confirms considering running for Senate, while also not ruling out challenging GOP Gov. Gary Herbert. Chaffetz, too, is undecided about whether to run. Unlike Matheson, he likely will receive a safe seat in redistricting, meaning the two-term congressman’s political risk might be greater than his Democratic colleague. A Matheson-Chaffetz race was also tested and the Democrat led that pairing by an even greater 47-42 percent margin. The 2012 Utah Senate race must now be considered officially competitive.
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Poll Shows Hatch Vulnerability Across the Board

The Salt Lake City-based Dan Jones & Associates public opinion research firm conducted a poll for the Deseret News and found Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) spiraling down toward dead heat status in his bid for a seventh term. Not only is he locked into a close race for the Republican nomination, but it also appears he could have a surprisingly tough 2012 general election battle should Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) decide to run.

Only 406 registered voters were questioned during the June 13-16 period, a relatively small sample for a state having a population equal to the size of four congressional districts, and even more minute when considering the aggregate response factor for the GOP primary ballot test. Though the number of self-identified Republicans was not released, it is probable that the total was well below 250 people. The small universe adds to the error factor ratio and generally makes the results less reliable.

On the other hand, Jones & Associates has a great deal of experience conducting polls of Utah voters and residents and has even been a research vendor to past Hatch for Senate campaigns. The local knowledge certainly improves the nebulous reliability factor.

The tabulations show most voters think the 77-year old Hatch has been in office too long, not surprising for a politician serving his 35th year in the Senate, particularly when a respondent pool is queried long before Election Day. By a margin of 59-38 percent, the sample stated that it preferred “someone new” to having a senator with Hatch’s long seniority. Only 18 percent answered that they are “definitely” committed to Sen. Hatch, whereas 37 percent “definitely” want a new person.

But the surprise of the poll is not the Senator’s vulnerability but how well Rep. Matheson does statewide. Utah, one of the most reliable of Republican states, hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1970 or a governor since Matheson’s father, Scott Matheson, left office after the 1984 election. In a ballot test for the upcoming general election, Hatch only scores a 47-47 percent tie against the six-term Democratic congressman but has a slight lead among those “definitely” voting for their candidate of choice, 32-28%.

Hatch also, for the first time in a statewide poll, shows weakness in a Republican primary. While there is no doubt the Senator has problems at the state Republican convention, like his former seat mate Bob Bennett did in 2010 (he failed to qualify for the primary ballot), previous primary polls showed Hatch to be in strong position against his most likely GOP opponent, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3). The congressman says he is seriously considering a run against the veteran Senator, but has not yet committed to the race. According to the Dan Jones poll, Mr. Hatch would command only a 47-44% lead over Rep. Chaffetz among those respondents classifying themselves as likely Republican primary voters. Looking only at those saying their decision is definite, Hatch posts a 28-23% margin.

Polls like the one discussed as the subject of this column increase the speculation talk and likelihood that both Chaffetz and Matheson will run statewide. For the Republican nomination fight, Congressman Chaffetz will have an edge at the state convention, but Senator Hatch is working diligently to fill his own slate of delegates. If either candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, such person is nominated outright making Utah one of the few states that can still nominate candidates via party assembly. If no one receives 60%, then the top two candidates face each other in a straight primary election. It was always viewed that Hatch would have a decided advantage in an electoral contest against Chaffetz because he will have a substantial fundraising edge. This latest poll suggests that the Senators best political asset may be less of a factor than originally believed.

The results are also a double-edged sword for Matheson. While his statewide numbers appear strong, thus giving him more reason to run for the Senate or for governor (more likely the Senate if Chaffetz runs because the eventual GOP nominee will have a divided political base) his House re-election chances probably diminish. With him overtly toying with a statewide race, Republican map drawers have greater reason to make his 2nd district even more favorable to a GOP candidate, thus trying for a straight 4-0 delegation sweep and “encouraging” Matheson to seek election elsewhere.

It appears that Utah could now become a political hotbed all the way through the general election. Though the Utah Senate race would normally earn a “Safe Republican” rating in a general election contest at this point during an average election cycle, right now it appears that “Lean Republican” is the more accurate appraisal.
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Rep. Chaffetz Moving Closer to Utah Senate Run

It appears virtually certain that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) will challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for the Republican Senate nomination next year and officially announce his campaign after Labor Day. Chaffetz has been considering the race for months. It will be the second time that he attempts to unseat a Republican incumbent. In 2008, he defeated six-term Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT-3) to obtain the congressional district he currently represents.

The key to the race, as it was for Sen. Mike Lee when he defeated then-Sen. Bob Bennett during the 2010 GOP nominating process, is the state Republican convention. Utah is one of the few states where party convention voting can actually determine a nomination. If a candidate receives 60 percent of the delegate vote, then that candidate is officially nominated. Primaries can occur if two candidates, and only two, fall between 40 and 59 percent of convention balloting. Should that happen, then the two qualifying candidates move to the actual primary election.

The state convention delegates, who number approximately 3,500, are chosen at local county caucuses. It was at this level of the process where Sen. Bennett actually met his demise. Statistics show that an average of 30,000 people historically attend the local caucuses. In 2010, largely motivated by the anti-Bennett and Tea Party movement, more than 75,000 people participated. Once these county voters chose their state delegate slates, Bennett’s fate was sealed. He ended his career failing to even qualify for the primary ballot.

Sen. Hatch may be in a different position, mostly because he is learning from Bennett’s experience. He will have his own operation to turn out supporters for the county caucus meetings with the strategy of obtaining enough votes to force a primary. It is already clear that Chaffetz has the inside track to placing first at the state convention, but it is always difficult to obtain 60 percent in any voting universe. Hatch merely must reach 40 percent, which is a reasonable goal. Early polling suggests that the senator still enjoys strength in a primary voting situation, and he certainly is the superior fundraiser. Therefore, if Chaffetz is to wrest the nomination away from Hatch, he will almost certainly do so at the convention.
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