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.
Swallow didn't apologize Wednesday for how he ran his race. "Some things in campaigns we can't control," he said, speaking about Utah Republican Party fliers and ads by the National Republican Congressional Committee. However, Swallow's own campaign criticized Matheson along the same themes as the fliers and NRCC ads.
"But to be frank about it, three weeks ago my own polling showed us 34 points behind," Swallow said. "We got that down to 5 percentage points" behind in a survey taken for him just before the election. "It's hard to beat an incumbent when there is such a large gap."
Swallow added: "If I'd gone up with TV advertising when (both Jim and Scott Matheson were running early TV), I'd have been closer in the home stretch, and then I could have gone with a different type of a message. The (30-point) gap required us to talk strongly about issues and (Jim Matheson's) record."
Jones said he doesn't like negative campaign advertising, but he noted how Swallow closed on Matheson in the time the NRCC spent more than $1.1 million in the last month of the campaign, much of it in ads criticizing Matheson.
Jones said 19 percent of Jim Matheson's votes came from Republicans. But his brother couldn't come close to that in his gubernatorial race, where Huntsman beat Scott Matheson 56 percent to 43 percent, unofficial results Wednesday showed.
Jones said religion may have played a role in that race, as it does in many Utah contests. Huntsman is the grandson of the late LDS Church Apostle David B. Haight, who died this year. Many people knew that connection, Jones said, and "the active LDS went overwhelmingly" for Huntsman.
A candidate can win a major office if he's not a faithful member of the LDS Church. "You just can't attack the church," Jones said. No Democrats did, Dunn said.
Workman's problems may have cost Republican Ellis Ivory the county mayorship and caused the defeat of GOP councilman-at-large Steve Harmsen. But the problems were isolated to county offices. Democratic state House and Senate members in the county didn't see a big voting bump.Comment on this story
Two legislative Republicans lost in the county: Sen. James Evans, R-Salt Lake, lost his west-side district, but it is a heavily Democratic area. And Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray, lost, but he barely held that seat two years ago.
Longtime Rep. Eli Anderson, D-Tremonton, also lost in a district that is more than 2-to-1 Republican.
The Utah House remains a 56-19 majority for Republicans. The Senate now becomes 21-8 for Republicans.
Democrats failed to gain the three Senate seats they sought, which would have put them over one-third and able to uphold a gubernatorial veto, kill a constitutional amendment or filibuster a bill."It's just very hard to win (a relatively unadvertised legislative seat) when the Republican president at the top of the ballot carries the state with 71 percent of the vote," Dunn said.