Only a few Democrats were able to survive Utah's GOP 'sweep'

Pollster analyzes campaign results

Published: Thursday, Nov. 4 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

Scott Matheson Jr. addresses supporters on Tuesday night. Matheson was defeated in the Utah gubernatorial race by Jon Huntsman Jr.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

America is shifting to the Republicans — right where Utah has been for some time, a political expert believes.

And in this state, "only Salt Lake County is a bastion for Democrats," said Dan Jones, who polls for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV and teaches political science at the University of Utah.

Jones spoke at the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics Wednesday assessing the 2004 elections. Among his observations: Democrats Peter Corroon and Jenny Wilson won the Salt Lake County mayoral and at-large council seats, respectively, despite what Jones termed "a Republican sweep" in Utah.

Those two races were too close to call early Wednesday morning, and Wednesday's editions of the Deseret Morning News listed them as inconclusive.

Donald Dunn, state Democratic Party chairman, said the Corroon/Wilson wins were high points, along with the impressive victory of Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson in the 2nd District.

But Democrats "were disappointed (Scott Matheson) lost the governor's race and that we didn't win more seats in the Utah House and Senate."

The troubles of current GOP County Mayor Nancy Workman bled into the Jim Matheson/Corroon/Wilson races, believes Jones, who did exit polling for KSL.

And in the Salt Lake County portion of the 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Jim Matheson carried voters nearly 2-to-1 — one reason Matheson blew away Republican John Swallow to win a third, two-year term.

Swallow declined to concede late Tuesday. Wednesday, he congratulated Matheson and said he won't run against him again for the U.S. House.

"I'm going to get back to my business and my family, the two most important things in my life," Swallow said Wednesday morning. This is Swallow's second loss to Matheson. But the 2002 2nd District loss was by less than 1 percentage point.

Tuesday, Matheson pounded Swallow in a GOP-leaning district by 15 percentage points, 56 percent to 41 percent.

Jones, who has polled in Utah for 30 years, said despite the victories by Matheson, Corroon and Wilson on Tuesday, the Republican sweep in Utah was much like 1984 when Ronald Reagan won a second term and then-Utah House Speaker Norm Bangerter won the governorship.

In this election, Jones' exit polling to identify with which political party voters affiliated showed a 52-19 Republican/Democratic split in Utah — the worst showing for Democrats in recent times, he said.

That helped carry Jon Huntsman Jr. to the governor's chair, even though Democrat Scott Matheson ran a good race, Jones said.

"What I didn't anticipate is just the wonderful, wonderful name" identification that came to Huntsman, the eldest son of billionaire/philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., Jones said.

While both Jim and Scott Matheson also have a good name — the late Gov. Scott M. Matheson was their father — Scott Matheson just didn't draw as well statewide as his younger brother, Jim, did in the 2nd District.

Jones shared a recollection about Scott Matheson Jr.: Years ago, when the former governor knew he was dying of a rare form of cancer, he and Jones spoke about Utah politics privately, Jones said. "The governor told me his oldest son (Scott) had one good race in him, but that he (the governor) wouldn't live to see it." That race was this year.

Jones said negative TV ads and fliers in the 2nd District sunk Swallow, especially in the Salt Lake County portion of the district.

Matheson beat Swallow 65 percent to 32 percent in Salt Lake County. Of the 16 counties contained wholly or in part in the 2nd District, Matheson won just five.

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