Monday, November 14, 2005

With Urquhart Out, It's Most Likely Term Six for Hatch

I’m sorry to see Steve Urquhart drop out of the U.S. Senate race. Steve said up front that he knew it would be an uphill battle. He knew that he had to get 60% of the vote at next spring’s state Republican convention. Steve’s a smart guy, and he could see that the current trajectory wouldn’t carry him to that goal. But keep your eye on Steve to continue to be a mover and shaker in Utah politics. Maybe the future will see him in national politics.

Perma-Hatch can now breathe easy that he has no Republican challenger. Ethan at SLC Spin has an interesting series of posts on this issue here, here, here, and here. Ethan and some of his readers postulate whether conservatives will now support Pete Ashdown, who is running against Hatch as a Democrat.

Gary Thornock suggests that conservatives should like Ashdown because he stands on the conservative “principles of … limited government, local control and fiscal restraint.” As appealing as that may be, I believe that most of the people that actually vote in Utah won’t give five seconds of thought to Pete Ashdown between now and the ’06 elections.

Frankly, most Utahans really aren’t disenchanted with Senator Hatch. Hatch really hasn’t done anything terribly controversial over the last three decades. He generally gets pretty good press. Most Utahans don’t really understand how ineffective Hatch has been for Utah and how bad he is for technology. His tenure is seen by most as an asset rather than a liability.

Most voters aren’t going to toss an incumbent out unless they are seriously unhappy with him. And most Utah voters aren’t unhappy with Hatch. Steve Urquhart understood this. He knew that he had no chance in a primary election against Hatch. That is why he was working to win at the state convention.

But that’s only part of the problem. Many Utah voters consider themselves conservatives, but they define the term rather fuzzily. When it comes right down to it, they are mostly moral conservatives rather than fiscal conservatives. If they were fiscal conservatives more than half of the Republicans in the Legislature wouldn’t be there and our state budget and tax systems would look very different.

Ashdown may score some points on the side of fiscal conservatism, but he doesn’t speak the same moral language as the majority of actual Utah voters. Although he steps carefully when discussing moral hot button issues, the reality is that Ashdown comes down on the opposite side of most actual voters on those issues.

What’s more is that it probably doesn’t really matter what Ashdown says publicly on moral issues. His national party affiliation hurts him. The stand of the DNC on moral issues important to Utah voters speaks louder than the candidate. Party representatives like Rocky Anderson and Howard Dean don’t help matters much. When Steve Urquhart said that the senate seat would remain in Republican hands, he wasn’t being arrogant. He was simply being pragmatic.

Many people grouse about Utah’s lopsided political system, but there are two ways of looking at it. One is that DNC positions have killed the party’s opportunities in Utah. The other is that Utah voters are too stupid to vote Democratic. And don’t expect voters to support people who think the latter unless they are running in areas heavily populated by Democrats (a la Rocky).

Well, if it’s so difficult for a Democrat to be elected in Utah, why do we have a Democratic Congressional Representative? Jim Matheson serves a district that is closely divided between the two parties. It is not representative of greater Utah. He was initially elected in an open election in 2000. He didn’t have to unseat an incumbent because the Republican voters did that for him by unseating Rep. Merrill Cook in the primary election. Since gaining office, as Democracy for Utah noted here, Matheson has proved to be “a sell-out Democrat who votes with the Republicans. That's why we like him.” And that’s why voters have sent him back to Washington twice and will likely do so again next year.

Unlike Matheson, Ashdown has to win the entire state. He has to unseat a sitting incumbent that has given most voters no reason to vote against him. Unless Perma-Hatch does something like have a public extramarital affair, I think Ashdown is unlikely to win. Even if Hatch were to die, voters might give him a sympathy vote, much the same as Missouri voters did for Mel Carnahan in 2000 (see here), rather than elect Ashdown.

So should Ashdown not run? Of course he should run! Even if he has no realistic chance of winning at the moment, politics is a strange business and the only sure way to lose is to get out of the race. You never know what might develop between now and next November. Besides, Ashdown has the opportunity to influence the public debate on current political issues. That may even mean indirectly influencing national policy. I could be wrong about all of this, but I think it’s the most realistic view.


Ryan said...

Good analysis of the race so far. Hatch really hasn't done anything serious to rock the boat, so why would voters kick him out? His seniority is an asset - I believe he like most Republican Senators are fiscally conservative, but the institution in which they operate requires them to get all they can for their constituencies. Its like Hatch, Bennet, Dole, Domenici ect...saying 'I don't want to spend that much on XYZ but I'll be damned if Oklahoma is going to get more than me!'

Brett said...

I agree with some of your analysis so far, but I must disagree with some aspects. I agree that most Utahns are not yet disenchanted with Hatch enough to vote against him, I feel most Utahns would like someone better. Second, I agree that Pete is a fiscal conservative, but I argue that he is also a moral conservative. As a some who tries to be moral, I find it offensive that political morality is drawn in such rigid terms that ignores greater morals. For example, hypocrisy is immoral; anyone who has read the New Testament can at least agree with this. Orrin Hatch has made hypocritical statements in many ways. First of all is his 1976 campaign slogan in which he said that Frank Moss' 3 terms was too many; now he is going for his 6th. He was the instrument, if not the architect, of blocking President Clinton's judicial nominees. Now he gets upset when Democrats find a way to stop nominees; the obstructionism is wrong on both sides, but Hatch is hypocritical.
Also, I do not see how torture is moral; I urge anyone to look at the wikipedia article on torture and tell me that the methods used were moral. However, Senator Hatch supports the CIA and other shadowy government agencies using torture.
Furthermore, I do find it immoral that Hatch is pro-life but does not care what happens to the mother or child after birth. It is moral to help women avoid abortion, but that morality requires giving them the resources to care for the child before and after birth.
It is not moral to allow companies to pollute our waters to such a great extent that we cannot eat fish and duck without fears of mercury poisioning. But Orrin Hatch wants to loosen environmental regulations about clean air and water so that it will be easier to build refineries, which will produce more polluting gas. Senator Hatch ignores the morality and practicality of environmental regulations.
Suffice it to say, Hatch only cares about the morals that help him get elected. Pete Ashdown cares about the morals that matter, not just the ones that will help him get elected.

Reach Upward said...

I never claimed that Senator Hatch was a great moralist. However, when it comes to supporting traditional family values, valuing the lives of the unborn, and promoting judicial restraint, Hatch aligns with the only major political party that speaks in terms that most Utah voters identify with, even if his voting record misses on some points.

You can argue with what most Utahans consider to be morally important in government and politics, but you cannot change it overnight with the wave of a magic wand. You can dislike the fact that most Utah voters put more value on some moral issues in the political arena than on others, but that does not change the fact. I do not say that I agree with the majority of Utah voters. I think I have been quite forthcoming about wanting to retire Perma-Hatch. But I also understand reality.

(BTW give the "Republicans want to pollute the world" rag a rest. That goes in the same extremist bag with wanting to starve schoolchildren to death, etc.)

Justin said...

If the rag fits... I think the evidence is quite clear on the Republicans' environmental record.

If you're giving anything a rest, try those tired old "moral issues" of the right like "traditional family values" and "judicial restraint". They're just right-wing ideology summarized in bumpersticker-sized code words.

Reach Upward said...

Call it what you want; I'm simply trying to report the facts. I'm not trying to pass moral judgment on Utah voters; I'm merely stating my understanding of their views. It's absolutely fine for you to disagree with the views of the majority of Utah voters. We have a pluralistic society with a constitution that, when properly applied, is designed to handle differences effectively.

You are also free to disagree with my understanding of the views of the majority of Utah voters. However, I believe my analysis of those views is borne out by the voting record.

But Utah demographics are in flux. In one to two decades you could see a substantial change in the views of the majority of voters.