Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: The political dynamics of Utah's congressional districts

Published: Sunday, Feb. 5 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah Rep. Jim Matheson

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For the first time in history, Utah has candidates running in four different congressional districts. Most of the interest is in the wide-open contests for the GOP nominations in the 2nd and 4th districts, but some intrigue exists even in the 1st and 3rd. We look at some of the political dynamics.

4th District

Webb: This is the only district that will likely feature a lively and hard-fought general election battle. Thus, the contest among the four legitimate GOP contenders isn't just about who is the purest-of-the-pure conservative, but a big focus should also be on electability — who can defeat Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.

The GOP contest includes two tea party candidates, Carl Wimmer and Stephen Sandstrom, and two more mainstream (but still conservative) candidates in Mia Love and Jay Cobb. Wimmer started very early and thought he had this nomination locked up. But solid competition has emerged.

So who can beat Matheson (who is leading in the polls at this early point, mostly on the strength of his name identification)? Conventional wisdom suggests that if Republicans nominate someone too far right, Matheson will more easily pick up independent and moderate Republican votes.

Wimmer and Sandstrom are seasoned legislative conservatives. Cobb, an attorney, is a mainstream conservative with congressional staff experience. Love is the most intriguing candidate of all. She is mayor of Saratoga Springs but is relatively young and inexperienced.

She is a solid campaigner and is very attractive at the national GOP level because she would be the first female Republican black member of Congress in history. She would bring in a gusher of national money against Matheson in the general election.

Pignanelli: "I will not deny that there are men in the district better qualified than I to go to Congress, but gentlemen, these men are not in the race." — Sam Rayburn

The newest congressional district offers the most fun for politicos. Regardless of how one may view his policies, Carl Wimmer is 250 pounds of effusive charisma and is fluent in "tea partyese" — an important qualification for the convention. Republicans are impressed with Sandstrom's business acumen. But the candidate who is creating the most chatter is Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love. Like many Utahns, I was first introduced to Love through the LDS Church produced video — which highlights her amazing background as the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She closes with "I am a mother, I am a mayor, I am a Mormon." After wiping the tears from my eyes, I came very close to calling my bishop to get the baptismal font ready. (Mom, I'm just kidding). Because she would be the first female Republican African-American member of Congress, Love is attracting attention on the national level.

Regardless of the new district and boundaries, many Republicans view Matheson as unbeatable — his finances and popularity are just too strong. Others believe that a Romney ticket and a less than favorable district could be the end of Matheson in 2012. What is undeniable — there is no better campaigner than Matheson. The fight for the 4th will be fun

2nd District

Webb: This is the most crowded GOP race, with David Clark and Chris Stewart emerging as the candidates to beat, but with Jason Buck, Cherilyn Eager, John Willoughby, Howard Wallack and Chuck Williams all legitimate contenders. It will take multiple balloting to see who emerges from the convention, and a primary runoff is likely.

Pignanelli: The 2nd Congressional District contest was originally viewed as a snoozer. However interesting things are beginning to develop under the radar. For example, Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell is a cosponsor of Dave Clark's recent fundraiser. Yet, his Chief Deputy is Cody Stewart, the nephew to congressional opponent Chris Stewart. With all these contenders, this was a likely occurrence.

1st District

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