Some Republicans pushing for crossover vote against Matheson

Published: Wednesday, May 12 2010 1:42 a.m. MDT

Jim Matheson

T.j. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The political fallout from last weekend's state GOP and Democratic conventions is already starting — a "Republicans for Claudia" movement among some Utah conservatives asking Republicans to jump into the 2nd District Democratic primary.

Retired schoolteacher Claudia Wright got 45 percent of the Democratic convention vote to move into a June 22 primary with U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson.

The district is GOP-leaning, taking in eastern Salt Lake County and counties to the east, south and southwest, and contains plenty of Republican voters.

Meanwhile, former state representative Morgan Philpot barely won the GOP 2nd District nomination outright Saturday, and so Republicans don't have a primary in that race.

That, some conservatives believe, frees up 2nd District Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to go into the Democratic primary and vote for Wright, who likely would be easier for Philpot to beat in November. But other conservatives say such an effort would be wrong, and they don't back it.

"For purposes of a Republican victory, I'd rather face Claudia," Philpot said candidly Tuesday morning. "But I'm just happy to face either of them."

Philpot said he's not behind the crossover vote effort.

At least one "Republicans for Claudia" website went online Monday, sponsored by tea party member Chase Everton. Conservative state Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, likes that idea, also, his Facebook page said early Tuesday, although later in the day he apologized and said it was a wrongheaded idea.

"I'm not happy about this," Wright said. "Republicans have their own U.S. Senate (primary) race, and I'd prefer a straight-up contest with Mr. Matheson" and to not have Republicans coming into the 2nd District primary.

Matheson said he takes seriously "every political dynamic" — like a conservative crossover — but in the end, he believes he'll beat both Wright and Philpot. "Crossover (attempts) have not manifested themselves in Utah," Matheson said.

Arguing against an effective crossover is the June 22nd GOP U.S. Senate race. It's the paramount primary, because it's likely the winner there — either Tim Bridgewater or Mike Lee — will win in November and could spend decades in Washington, D.C.

David Kirkham, the founder of Utah's first tea party group and an organizing assistant for more than a dozen others around the state, said Tuesday that neither he nor any of the tea party supporters he has spoken to are advocating for a crossover vote.

"At no any time has there been encouragement at any level, nor will there be, for asking Republicans to vote for a Democrat in District 2," Kirkham said.

Kirkham told the Deseret News on Monday that the post-convention efforts of the tea party and 9.12 groups would likely be focused on support for Philpot in his efforts to oust incumbent Matheson, getting voters to the polls and working on state-level races.

Todd Taylor, longtime executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said that in his experience, he has rarely seen a crossover vote be effective.

Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones of Dan Jones & Associates says the only real crossover vote he has measured happened in 1990 — and, oddly enough — it was in the old 2nd District (which then was totally in Salt Lake County).

That year, conservative Dan Marriott got 53 percent of the Republican voters' ballots, according to Jones' exit polling for KSL-TV. But moderate Genevieve Atwood won the GOP primary by a few thousand votes — with, said Jones, Democrats and independents coming into the primary to pick the more moderate candidate. It didn't matter in the end. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens, a popular moderate like Matheson, easily won re-election in November.

Matheson has proven himself an excellent fundraiser and campaigner and has won re-election with increasing margins of victories in recent years.

The latest Federal Election Commission filings show Matheson has $1.4 million in campaign cash, compared to Wright's $3,850.

Philpot has $6,500 in cash but will be able to raise more now that he's the GOP nominee.

"Of course (Philpot) would rather face me, because he has more money than I do," Wright said, adding once she wins the Democratic nomination, she'll be a formidable candidate against Philpot "because he is so far to the right."

In previous races, Matheson has gotten an overwhelming percent of Democratic voters, 60 percent of independents and even 20 percent or more of Republicans, Jones has found.

"That won't happen this year," said Philpot, a conservative former state House member from Sandy and vice chairman of the state GOP before he resigned that post to run.

Forty-five percent of Democratic state delegates voted for Wright. "So a large base of his own party doesn't want him," Philpot said.

"And 90 percent of (conservative) Republicans are very disappointed in (Matheson's) voting record. I think we'll see a low turnout (in November) of the Democratic base, a large turnout in the GOP base," and both are good for him, Philpot said.

Matheson said he can, and will, keep his broad coalition together. Second District voters "look at the individual, not the party label," he said. "If they didn't, I wouldn't be here, because my district is 60 percent Republican, 20 percent Democratic and 20 percent independent."

Because of Matheson's popularity and relatively weak recent GOP opponents, the national Republican Party hasn't put much money into Utah's 2nd District contest. But Philpot said he has already had calls from the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee saying they will "be engaged" in his race this year.

The two national committees have put big bucks up against Matheson before: $300,000 in 2002 and $1 million in 2004. "They've been in Utah, and I'm always ready for them," he said.

Said Philpot, "If (the national GOP PACs) come in, I hope they will get some Utah advice. The last thing we need is negative campaigning, which I think will only hurt my campaign."

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; araymond@desnews.com

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