While the 2000 presidential election looks like the closest contest in 40 years, many of the races in Utah won't be nail-biters. Most likely, Nov. 7 will be another Republican day in Utah.The following are my picks for the major races this year. ATTENTION READERS: These are only one guy's guesses. They don't reflect my personal views or where I will cast my ballots, and they are in no way an endorsement. Neither I nor the Deseret News endorses candidates.
President: Once again Utahns will vote for the GOP presidential candidate. Not since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 have Utahns picked the Democratic nominee. And they won't this time, either. Texas Gov. George W. Bush will get Utah's five Electoral College votes.But because the national race is so close, Utahns voting for either the Republican or Democratic nominee could see their vote really count this year. It's possible although not likely that the ultimate presidential winner could barely take the Electoral College vote but lose the overall popular vote. There's no constitutional crisis here it's happened several times before. But certainly Americans would wake up to the issue and wonder if it's proper that a man could lose the popular vote but win the presidency anyway.
U.S. Senate: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wins easily over Democratic challenger Scott Howell, the minority leader of the state Senate. Hatch sets a record: 30 years as a popularly elected U.S. senator from Utah.
Sen. Reed Smoot served 30 years in the Senate from Utah. But Smoot was placed in the Senate twice by the Utah Legislature, back before the U.S. Constitution was changed to popularly elect senators.Don't be surprised if Hatch, 66, actually runs for a sixth six-year term in 2006. A number of sitting senators are older than Hatch would be at the end of that term (78), and he loves the job.
Governor: GOP Mike Leavitt wins a third four-year term. Former Democratic Congressman Bill Orton could have given Leavitt a run for the money this year. But Orton declined to raise the money needed to make it a competitive race.
I wonder if Leavitt will poll more than 60 percent of the vote? I think Leavitt could well fall into the 50s well short of the record-setting 75 percent majority he got in 1996.Few remember that Leavitt was actually a minority governor his first term. In 1992, in a three-way race, Leavitt won with 48 percent of the vote. But whether he wins Tuesday by 10 votes or 10,000, he'll be the main state man for the next four years, overseeing hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics, the finished reconstruction of I-15 and so on. Leavitt says he wouldn't resign to serve in a George W. Bush administration, should he even be asked. But don't be surprised if in 2004 Leavitt retires from office to accept a position in a Bush second term if Bush gets that chance.
First and 3rd congressional districts: GOP Reps. Jim Hansen and Chris Cannon win re-election. Democrat Donald Dunn has given Cannon a spunky race, and the final vote could be closer than Cannon would like. But Cannon didn't campaign much. Dunn out-raised him in campaign cash, had kind of goofy TV ads and in general out-campaigned Cannon.
Earlier this year, Hansen told me he'd retire from the House in 2002 if Democrats won back the majority in the 2000 election. He could always change his mind, but losing a committee chairmanship and going back into the minority would be a difficult pill to swallow for the 20-year incumbent.If Democrats do win back the U.S. House Tuesday, watch for considerable jockeying by 1st District GOP leaders over the next two years in anticipation of an open seat in 2002.
Utah Legislature: I don't see the Democrats picking up four seats in the Utah Senate to win control there for the first time since 1978. They may pick up one or two seats. But, ironically, the 29-member Senate could actually take a turn to the right, even with more Democrats, as several conservative House GOP members move up into safe Republican seats.House Republicans should lose seats Tuesday to hard-working Democratic candidates. But Democrats likely won't gain more than five seats. Republicans would then be below 50 the magical two-thirds level. But it's basically impossible to stop a vote in the 75-member House if the majority wants one, and while Democrats could be obstructionists, they still wouldn't control the agenda or the budget.
Second Congressional District: For good or ill mostly for ill Utahns got a taste this election season of big-time, U.S. politics in this race. More than $2 million in outside "soft money" ads came into the state for or against Democrat Jim Matheson and Republican Derek Smith.
Some of the ads mainly against Matheson were inaccurate and offensive. As I've written before, there's no way electing Jim Matheson will lead to liberalizing abortion laws (the U.S. Supreme Court will make that call) or to Boy Scouts being forced to accept homosexual Scoutmasters both insinuations in one out-of-state anti-Matheson ad.
But the truth seems in short supply when it comes to outside advertising. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Congressional Committee could care less about what Utahns think about their political tactics. They are out to win. And win at any cost. Smith, who seems to me a decent man, could be the victim in all of this.
If Matheson beats Smith, local Republicans, however, will once again have seen the cost of knocking out an incumbent Republican to take a chance on a new challenger. GOP Rep. Merrill Cook, weighed down with 18 months of odd behavior and GOP insider backbiting, was defeated by Smith in a bitter June primary.
My guess is Matheson sneaks this one out. But after 18 months of campaigning and fund-raising, he'll have to start all over again early next year. And he'll face a Republican-controlled Utah Legislature that will do what it can to harm his 2002 re-election by redrawing his district lines during next year's legally mandated reapportionment.Overall, the 2000 elections won't be remembered in Utah for uplifting political debate or some grand statement by the citizenry. Maybe some federal campaign finance reform will come from it. But that's a debate for another day.
Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org