Special Elections Fallout for Utah’s CD-3

Utah is a very conservative state, at least when it comes to election results. But the election of Trump last November has made “Turning Utah Blue!” the cause of choice for many liberal activist in the state, especially in light of our very own special election coming in November to replace everyone’s least favorite Congressman (who somehow received 70%+ of the vote in three straight elections) Jason Chaffetz.

Both parties had conventions on June 17th to determine who will be running on their side of the ticket, or, in the case of the Republicans, to determine who would run in a primary held in August. The Democrats nominated the prohibitive favorite, a “progressive” doctor that raised money based on a platform of “Chaffetz is bad” and “strong medicine,” even though her platform positions are often only headline deep and she just doesn’t like people that don’t constantly praise her campaign.

Meanwhile, the Republicans nominated a man in Chris Herrod that has attempted to scrub the internet of all his truly ghastly policy positions – like calling welfare recipients “pigs at the trough” – over much more “mainstream” Republicans like Deidre Henderson. Unfortunately for Herrod, Utah allows candidates that get a requisite number of signatures on petitions to bypass the convention and go straight to the primary ballot, much to the chagrin of a lot of people in the Utah Republican Party.* Because of this, Herrod gets the pleasure of going to a primary against John Curtis, a fairly popular mayor from the District’s largest city, and Tanner Ainge, who brings a famous name – and likely deep pockets – to the race.

*They are currently leading a lawsuit against the state over SB54, which was passed in the legislature a few years ago that allowed for this process, because god forbid that all the voters in the district be able to elect their candidates instead of “party elites” that attend the convention (which may or may not have collected money from delegates as they walked in the door).

Throw in the vanity United Utah Party, run by a bunch of Democrats that were tired of always losing to Republicans – who are also suing for a place on the ballot! – a Libertarian, an Independent American, and a couple of others and you get what will probably end up being much ado about nothing in November. As a reminder, let’s take a look at the last three Congressional elections since the current CD-3 came to be:

UT District 3 Candidate Votes Percentage
2016 Chaffetz (R) 209,589 73.46%
  Tryon (D) 75,716 26.54%
2014 Chaffetz (R) 102,952 72.35%
  Wonnacott (D) 32,059 22.53%
  Three others 7,289 5.12%
2012 Chaffetz (R) 198,828 76.61%
  Simonsen (D) 60,719 23.39%

Source: Utah Lieutenant Governor

I’m sorry to break it to you, but unless something dramatic happens by November that makes it personally toxic to vote for a Republican, the chances of any non-Republican winning this special election is probably less than 5%. However, as with the other special elections that have happened this year, closing the gap a bit from previous election should be viewed as a positive result. Look at the presidential results in CD-3 during the past two elections:

UT District 3 Candidate Votes Percentage
2016 Trump (R) 136,782 47.18%
  McMullin (IAP) 70,933 24.47%
  Clinton (D) 67,461 23.27%
2012 Romney (R) 208,121 78.28%
  Obama (D) 51,791 19.48%

Source: Daily Kos

Hillary Clinton came in third in the district in November! I get the McMullin made the 2016 race unique, at least in Utah (remember when people said he could get our Electoral College vote? That was a fun two weeks), and even Romney’s Mormonism probably pushed him up a few points in 2012, but DEMOCRATS DO NOT DO WELL IN THIS DISTRICT!

We can continue to try and apply the “shift” in the other four special elections to what we might end up seeing in CD-3 in November, but even the most optimistic of shifts would not lead a non-Republican to victory. In my opinion, Democrats should celebrate ending up with more than 30% of the vote in which will end up (potentially) seven person race. And like we just saw in the South Carolina Special Election, lower turnout* might actually help the Democrat.

*I’m all about getting out the vote, but this CD-3 already has 51% of voters registered as Republicans, with less than 15% of voters registered as Democrats. Even if you got every active Democrat to the polls, picked up a majority of unaffiliated voters, and even swiped some Republicans, the numbers might not be there. And that’s in a typical environment where turnout is closer to 70%. I’m giving the over under for a total vote in this special election as 75,000. Plus, SC-5 also had other things working for the Dem besides low turnout, like a high percent of African-American voters – who tend to vote Democrat – which Utah’s CD-3 just doesn’t have (it’s over 85% white).

Garnering 30% of a vote in a district you aren’t expected to be competitive in probably won’t be covered in the national news, regardless of the perceived swing. And if you hope that moving the needle will cause other Utah Representatives to worry about their own races next year, I wouldn’t bet on that either. The only “competitive” district in Utah is Mia Love’s CD-4, and if it even looks like a Democrat is getting close to her, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee will swoop in with millions of dollars, just like they did for Karen Handel in Georgia, and like they’ve done for Love in the past.

The bottom line in all this is simply my frustration with the immediate narrative following these elections. All the special elections thus far have been in districts where the Republican Representative and/or Donald Trump dominated, which is why Trump felt safe in nominating those people to positions in his administration. While the circumstances regarding Utah’s CD-3 special election are slightly different, Chaffetz would not be leaving early if he thought that his seat would go to Democrats. I’m sorry. That’s the truth, regardless what Kathie Allen and her “fans” might tell you.

If Democrats really want to flip the house in 2018, they should be investing their money in races that are actually winnable. While there may be anywhere from 60-80 seats that are truly competitive in the House races next year (depending on what the Democrat swing ends up being in 17 months), there are currently 23 GOP Representatives sitting in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Democrats only need 24 seats to take back the majority in the house next year, so those 23 seats would be a great place to start. Throw in some of the seats that had narrow margins, or places where incumbents might be retiring, or just a general distaste for GOP policies over the next year, and it is very doable.

Continuing to throw money at candidates like Kathie Allen is not going to help, but, hey, it’s your money. If you want to see another Democrat spend way more money than they should in a losing cause, feel free to keep giving her money. I just don’t see a path to victory for her even in the friendliest environment for Democrats. Just stop expecting a monumental shift for her in November, and don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t materialize. Then maybe Utah Democrats can find an actual progressive candidate for the ballot next year, and not someone that raised money because Chaffetz said something about iPhones.

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