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Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
Pete Ashdown rides a horse in front of his campaign motor home during a parade in Midway. Ashdown, who recognizes<BR> that he faces an uphill battle in challenging Sen. Orrin Hatch, says if elected he would put people before special interests.

WASHINGTON — Blue letters painted on the back of Senate candidate Pete Ashdown's campaign bus read "This Motor Home Was New In '76." It's a not-so-subtle message that something 30 years old may need to be replaced — such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, for instance.

Replacing Hatch is exactly what Ashdown hopes to do. Hatch was elected to his first term in the Senate in 1976.

Ashdown, 39, is president of XMission, an independent Internet service provider in Utah. He wants to bring his technological expertise to the Senate and use his business approach to begin making changes in Washington.

Much has changed in the past 30 years and Ashdown wants to use technology already available to make the government more open, accountable and — most important to Ashdown — accessible.

"When I win this race, all eyes will be on Utah," Ashdown said.

Time and money are big factors in any campaign, especially one against a 30-year Senate incumbent with a $2.8 million campaign fund. Ashdown said the fact he was in a position to run, while many people are not, motivated him to challenge Hatch.

"I run for all the people who want to but can't and run against those who are but shouldn't," Ashdown said.

Uphill battle

Driving that motor home throughout the state has allowed Ashdown to see parts of the state he never seen and meet all types of people. "It's literally been the best experience of my life," Ashdown said.

Early on in his campaign, he attended the Bicknell International Film Festival and the associated World's Fastest Parade that goes from Bicknell to Torrey. He met a man there who talked to him about the local electric company and how it keeps rates low.

"He told me, 'when you win, don't forget about the little guy, don't forget about us,'" Ashdown said, which stuck with him as put 25,000 miles on that motor home visiting 90 percent of the cities throughout the state.

In one of his last stops in Callao, the small size of the town stunned him, but the people of the town were "well-versed" in a whole range of issues from education, the war in Iraq, agriculture and especially water issues, Ashdown said. Water-use in Las Vegas threatens the town's own water supply in a place where there is no water to spare — a plight that has been ignored by the congressional delegation, Ashdown said.

He said this is due to the "disconnect" between lawmakers and their constituents, something he wants to change.

"Our concerns and our needs are secondary to the need of people they see every day in Washington," Ashdown said.

Ashdown believes Hatch has sold out to special interests and he does not agree with some of the incumbent's votes on technology issues and that it is just time for a change in Utah.

"This race is an uphill battle on my side," Ashdown said. "The best way to replace seniority when it needs to be replaced is to replace it with clout."

As an eerie coincidence, the motor home broke down, leaving Ashdown stranded outside Cedar City. He said they will still use it for some local events but will not drive it long distances anymore.

As Ashdown spoke to local Rotary Clubs, community groups, chambers of commerce and other organizations, Democrats and Republicans reminded him that when Hatch first ran in 1976 one of his main topics was that his opponent had been in the Senate too long.

"This race is an uphill battle on my side," Ashdown said. "The best way to replace seniority when it needs to be replaced is to replace it with clout."

Internet revolution

But Hatch is a tough opponent to beat. Brian Walton, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said having someone with Hatch's seniority and status in the Senate is a "huge bonus for the citizens of Utah."

Hatch is running on his record and the promise of a Senate Finance Committee chairmanship in 2009, but Ashdown says if the Democrats take control of the Senate, Hatch won't have the leadership positions.

Ashdown said Utah should have one Democrat and one Republican senator to balance the state's representation in the Senate.

Kelly Patterson, director of the Center for the Study of Election and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said Ashdown has lots of "fine qualities.

"He's innovative, energetic and not afraid to campaign," Patterson said. "But think of the differences between Pete Ashdown and Jim Matheson."

Patterson said Matheson, a Democrat who represents Utah's 2nd Congressional District, not only holds public office but has name recognition and can raise more money. This makes an incumbent work harder. Ashdown does not have the statewide name recognition or any proven ability to raise money from supporters, which Hatch has.

Ashdown said many people expected him to put up a lot of his own money to finance the campaign, but he pledged to spend only $500,000 of his own money. He may end up putting in only about $50,000.

"I feel very strongly about (Hatch) buying the election by pouring millions of dollars into it," Ashdown said.

He said lack of money is one of the main barriers to entering into public office, which makes Congress not representative of the American people. Members are out of touch with everyday life, including using the Internet, he said.

Buying media time with television, radio or print ads make up the bulk of a candidate's campaign costs, but Ashdown said the Internet is the "great equalizer in that area."

He has made use of various technological trends to spread the word of his candidacy and bolsters his campaign through chats on his own Web site, www.peteashdown.org to a page on Wikipedia, a popular Web site where page users can edit or update content as they see fit.

"The Internet is so much more powerful than a TV ad," Ashdown said. He has been using the person-to-person approach, saying that the word-of-mouth way of spreading his political views is the "most effective way" of advertising.

The Internet and other advances in information-sharing and communication have changed the way people live or do business all over the world, but Ashdown sees a disconnect between the lawmakers who may not understand the technology and regular people who use it daily.

His favorite recent example is Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, calling the Internet a "series of tubes" in a recent debate about Internet fees. Stevens is head of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees federal regulation of the Internet.

"I believe that technology is the underpinning of our daily lives," Ashdown said.

Having a Congress full of elected officials whose staffs read their e-mail or who still cannot grasp even the basics of how the Internet works are holding back the country while the rest of the world moves ahead, Ashdown believes.

Electing someone who is not afraid of the latest technology and who is up to speed with what the Internet and computers can accomplish would help Utah and the rest of the country, Ashdown believes. It's not just about electing someone who knows how to use an on-line chat or email. Instead, it is about electing an individual who knows how to use the available resources to truly reach out to constituents and make Congress more in touch with what the people want.

People over profit

Once elected, Ashdown says, he plans to carry over the "people over profit" plan he used when he started XMission. He says he wants to really talk to constituents to see what they need. He wants to take the advice of the people in Utah to best serve them and "make sure other needs are met before my own needs"

"I want to put other people's needs first," Ashdown said. "Right now the American people come last and the special interests come first."

He is already using this idea in his campaign. While it is hard to find a political candidate without an Internet site, Ashdown's has chats, or online discussions, in which people can ask him questions. He is also using a Wikipedia or online encyclopedia so readers can offer suggestions as to where he should stand on certain issues. According to the Wiki site, when he feels a "good conclusion has been reached" he adds it to his main campaign Internet site.

If elected, he would publish a daily schedule so constituents would know with whom he had meetings or appointments. He said there is a lack of accountability now regarding which lawmakers actually write legislation.

"I believe that accountability and transparency are absolutely critical," Ashdown said.

At XMission, he sends subscribers a newsletter pointing out successes and failures so they have a complete history of the company's good and bad times. He would like to do something similar in office.

Although he is running as a Democrat, he said he is a "Utahn first, an American second and a Democrat third." He said he is "not buddies with Harry Reid," the Senate's Democratic leader from Nevada, and that he wants to develop his own style of leadership to fill a role for Utah in Washington. On his campaign Web site, he said "both major parties have plenty to be ashamed of" and he would prefer not having a party system at all.

"I believe it prevents representatives from acting and thinking for their constituents' best interests," Ashdown said.

Owning XMission not only allowed him to learn all there is about the latest in Internet development and provided the flexibility to take the time needed to campaign, he said, but his business background also has educated him in a variety of issues that Congress handles.

As a small-business owner, he said, he understands a variety of topics from health care and energy costs to wages and tax issues.

"It's hard to run a small business without being fiscally conservative," Ashdown said.

He started XMission in 1993. He knew there was going to be great demand for personal Internet connections. He began using the Internet in 1987. He has no MBA but came to the business from a technology background. He has an associate's degree from Salt Lake Community College and started studying film at the University of Utah but eventually moved on to computer science.

He worked a local computer graphics office for Evans & Sutherland until 1994, when XMission was successful enough for him to match his salary there.

Ashdown was born in Utah, but his family's genealogy has been traced back to the original Pilgrims who settled the Plymouth Rock colony, he said. He attended Leo J. Muir Elementary School and South Davis Junior High School and graduated from Woods Cross High School in 1985.

He married his wife, Robin, in 1998. She already had a daughter, and the couple has since added two more children to their family.


E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com