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.