A new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows Matheson down by 6 percentage points to GOP challenger Mia Love with just five weeks left in the campaign in the new 4th Congressional District.
Matheson says he was down to John Swallow in 2002 after the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew his 2nd Congressional District, and that he’ll come back and win this year just like he did before.
But this is not 2002. And Love is not Swallow.
A few points:
-- Swallow was an unknown state House member that year. He was short of money and not backed by much out-of-state cash/help.
Love is well known in the new 4th District. She may not have as much cash as Matheson in her own campaign account. But tens of millions of dollars are flowing in from out-of-state PACs, 501c organizations and the National Republican Congressional Committee – all sources Swallow didn’t have in 2002.
-- Many Utahns, especially some 2nd District Salt Lake County east bench GOP moderates, felt that Matheson was improperly gerrymandered in 2002.
They were unhappy that the GOP Legislature took the old 2nd District, which was wholly in Salt Lake County, and moved it way around eastern Utah and into Washington and Iron counties. It just didn’t seem fair or make sense.
But this year, while the new four-seat GOP redistricting is seen as strange to many folks, Matheson chose not to run in his old 2nd District, but jumped to the 4th District.
He doesn’t live in the 4th District. And you are not hearing the same anti-redistricting talk you did in 2002.
Why? Because it is Matheson who looks like a carpetbagger, choosing a district he thought he could win in rather than standing by his old 2nd District.
-- Love is the golden girl of national and local Republicans. If elected, she would be the first ever African-American female Republican in the U.S. House – real history-making.
Swallow was just another white Mormon state legislator looking to move up in Utah’s white Mormon Republican Party.
The dynamics of this race are very different.
-- Mitt Romney. If you recall 2002 was not a presidential election year. It was an election right after 9/11 and Utahns likely wanted to stay with a trusted Congressman from a well-known and well-loved Utah political family – Scott M. Matheson, Jim’s father, being a popular governor in the late 1970s, early 1980s.
Romney will sweep across Utah as the nation’s first faithful member of the LDS Church to be the presidential nominee of a major party. His coattails will be huge come Nov. 6.
Matheson, who beat Swallow by less than 1 percentage point, is standing alone, basically, against the Romney/Utah wave.
Many Utahns, even in the 4th District, do not like President Barack Obama. Obama is a drag on Matheson, no doubt about that.
-- Matheson has likely been aided in recent elections by low voter turnout.
Utah may well lead the nation in voter turnout this year, as Utahns who haven’t bothered to vote before go to the polls to cast a ballot for the first Mormon with a chance to win the presidency.
A detailed look at the new poll’s inside numbers shows Matheson’s problems.
The Dan Jones & Associates poll was done for the Deseret News and KSL-TV.
Few, if any, of the numbers underlying Love’s 49 percent to 43 percent lead over Matheson six weeks from the election are good for the incumbent Democrat.
The poll was of 414 registered voters in the 4th District. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. So, in a numerical sense, the candidates could be tied, or Matheson could even be ahead. But in 30 years at the DN working with Jones on polls, I found the margin of error is rarely, if ever, reached in reality.
-- Among the 295 folks who told Jones they are “very interested” in the 2012 election (and thus more likely to vote) Love leads Matheson, 55-37 percent.
-- Among the 160 people who said they “always” vote a straight ticket, Love leads 62-34 percent.
-- Among the 145 who said they never vote a straight ticket, Matheson leads 50-39 percent. (This is one of the best indications for the incumbent, since he needs moderate Republicans and independents who may well be voting for Romney to vote for Matheson.)
-- Love leads among those who said they are Republicans (that figures) 73-18 percent. Matheson leads among Democrats, 92-5 percent.
Among the critical “independent” voter, Matheson leads 53-40 percent. This, also, is good news for Matheson. The problem is, will Romney turn out so many Republican voters that Matheson’s lead among independents is swamped.
This poll seems to show that could well be the case.
-- Matheson needs a goodly number of what are termed “independent/leaning Republicans.” Unfortunately for him, Jones found that among the 95 folks who defined themselves that way, Love leads 65-26 percent.
-- Among those who said they are true independents, with no preference at all for political party, Matheson leads 59-35 percent. But there were only 33 people out of the sample that classified themselves as true independents.
-- Among those who said they are, politically speaking, moderates, again, Matheson does well, leading 69-22 percent.
But are there enough of those in the increasingly conservative Utah electorate?
Among those who said they are “somewhat conservative,” Matheson falters; Love leads 64-26 percent.
Now let’s take a look at the Mormon vote. It is, of course critical. And Matheson, who has steadfastly listed himself as a member of the LDS Church in various official and non-official listings of congressional members, is talking about religion this election as he has not before.
On KSL Radio’s Doug Wright Show Tuesday morning, in the last official debate with Love, Matheson said he, as well as his family, stand for “faith, family and country.”
He adds that has never put political party among his top priorities, and won’t if he wins.
Among the “very active” Mormons, Love leads 68-24 percent.
Among the “somewhat active,” Love leads 51-46 percent.
And among cultural Mormons who say they are no longer active in their church, Matheson leads 76-24 percent.
Matheson holds healthy leads among other religious groups and with those who say they have no religion.
For those who said they are LDS, including active, somewhat and inactive, Love leads 62-31 percent, or two-to-one.
This is a critical number, mainly because with Romney’s Mormonism an issue in the presidential race, it only makes sense that Mormons would feel their religion is weighing on the 2012 elections like never before – and so their voting preferences may well reflect that as never before.
Love is clearly an active Mormon, having converted to the religion as a young woman.
Finally, geography has long been an important factor in Matheson’s previous victories.
From 2002 through 2010 Matheson had to carry Salt Lake County by at least 60 percent to have a real chance of winning in a huge geographic district.
Now he’s running in the 4th District, which is mainly on the west side of Salt Lake County, but also includes the western part of Utah County (Love is the mayor of Saratoga Springs) and parts of Juab and Sanpete counties.
Matheson does lead in Salt Lake County, found Jones, but only 47-45 percent. He needs to be more like 60 percent in the county.
He loses badly in Utah and the other two counties.
In Utah County he is down 67-24 percent, for example.
Matheson told Wright that as the race enters its last phases, 4th District voters will be paying close attention. And that once they learn about Love’s “reckless and dangerous” stands on issues – stands very different from those of the average Utahn – he will do OK.
Love told Wright that while Utahns may “know” Jim Matheson – as Matheson keeps saying – Matheson no longer “knows” Utahns – because he keeps siding with Obama and voting against Utah values and issues.
One thing is for certain, there will be many electronic voices heard over these final weeks. Some from rather odd places.
During one of the commercial breaks during the Wright show, there was a pro-Matheson ad talking about health care and the environment and how Matheson had stood up for both.
It was paid for by some group calling itself the American Association of Surgeons – who, apparently, have some skin in Utah’s 4th District U.S. House race.