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Matheson win like an H.G. Wells novel

Published November 23, 2012 11:44 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

So did anyone catch the rich irony of Utah's Republican state chairman blaming a Republican congressional candidate's loss on voter-suppression tactics by Democrats?

Given all the controversial attempts in Republican-controlled states to make it more difficult to vote, especially for demographic groups that lean Democrat, Chairman Thomas Wright's complaints about the actions of the Democrat-led Salt Lake County Clerk's office were interesting.

After all, it was a banner election year for Republicans in Utah, no doubt.

The Democrats, already irrelevant with their paltry numbers in the Utah Legislature, dropped from 19 to 14 members in the House, and from seven to five in the Senate. That is the lowest Democratic representation in the Utah Legislature since the Reagan tsunami swept through the Western states in the 1980s, leaving the Democratic Party in many of those states close to extinction.

The Democratic losses were partially due to the gerrymandering shenanigans of the Republicans in 2011, but they also were a result of having a Republican presidential candidate who shares his Mormon religion with about two-thirds of the Utah population and is seen largely as a favorite son.

The Republicans also held on to both of Utah's U.S. Senate seats and three of the four seats in the House. They have the governor and all the other statewide elected offices in the state, with none of those races ever in doubt, and have such a grip on the political landscape that only Salt Lake County offers any semblance of competition between the two parties.

Wright should be smiling. But he seemed quite bitter Tuesday after the final tally of votes left Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson with a 768-vote victory over well-funded and nationally recognized newcomer Mia Love in the new 4th Congressional District.

Wright suggested after the results were announced that there might have been cheating going on in the Salt Lake County Clerk's office. "We still don't know why a lot of absentee ballots were disqualified," he said. "We want to understand the process so we make sure every single vote is counted."

Those comments stunned County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. She pointed out there were Republican poll watchers throughout the process and they didn't complain at the time when ballots, for valid reasons, were disqualified.

But Wright was nonplussed.

Perhaps he was frustrated because of all the resources the party poured into the Love race, which Republicans felt was their best chance ever to knock off the 12-year incumbent who represents the only stain on their otherwise pure-Republican mantelpiece in Washington.

Perhaps it was the disappointment of losing once again to Matheson after the party so meticulously created four congressional districts that were heavily tilted in favor of Republicans.

Or, maybe it was deja vu.

The Republicans enjoyed a similar landslide victory in Utah in 1980 with the Reagan Revolution. They overwhelmingly took control of the Legislature, won all the federal races that year and just about every other contest.

Except one. And the one that got away went to a guy named Matheson.

Gov. Scott Matheson, the congressman's father, was running for a second term and, while he enjoyed a pretty healthy popularity, his re-election was in doubt because the stars were aligned for Republicans in much the same way they were this year.

But Scott Matheson, despite running against an impressive Republican opponent with a glorious resume in an uncommonly strong Republican year, eked out the victory and was the lone Democrat on the victory podium.

That impressive opponent? The one who many thought would end the Democrats' 16-year occupation of the governor's office that year?

His name was Robert Wright, the father of current GOP State Chairman Thomas Wright. —




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