Since it was born, the 1990 1st Congressional District race has been a classic contest of the Hungry Underdog vs. the Confident Veteran.
Jim Hansen, a Republican, is a 10-year congressman, who, because of a strong showing in the polls, has spent little time serenading the electorate, choosing instead to go about business-as-usual in Washington.Kenley Brunsdale, a Democrat, is a young, aggressive public affairs attorney who has never held public office but who, despite the polls, has waged an aggressive campaign throughout the conservative 1st District.
When he announced his candidacy, Brunsdale promised to launch a "guerrilla campaign," saying his opponent would be "fun" to run against. During the first phases of his campaign, Brunsdale identified a dozen issues he thought were important to the 1st District voters, drafted bills to deal with the issues and sent them to Hansen with a letter asking Hansen to sponsor the bills.
Brunsdale has sought desperately to pull his opponent into the ring and rumble.
Hansen's response to Brunsdale has, for the most part, been a big yawn. In the beginning, it was no response at all. Hansen left that to campaign manager Peter Jenks, who called Brunsdale a liberal clone of Rep. Wayne Owens - Brunsdale's former boss and the political antithesis of Hansen. Jenks refused to address many of Brunsdale's proposed "bills," dismissing them as political hype designed to "get (Brunsdale's) name in the paper."
It was only in letters soliciting campaign contributions that Hansen acknowledged Brunsdale as a threat. Back at his GOP fund-raiser in April, however, Hansen didn't even mention Brunsdale by name, telling a reporter afterward, "I really don't know him." When he finally did acknowledge Brunsdale publicly, Hansen said "he would rather fight 10 Kenley Brunsdales than one Gunn McKay," a Democrat whom he unseated in 1980 and defeated two times since.
Claiming he knows his constituents well and that his philosophy "fits foursquare with theirs," Hansen has relied on his party identification - the 1st District is one of the most Republican in the nation - and his reputation as a fiscal and ideological conservative to carry him through the campaign.
Characterizing himself as "a new voice for the 1990s," Brunsdale describes Hansen as out of step in environmental issues, jaded in local issues and ineffective in general.
A local environmental issue that has been the flagship of Brunsdale's campaign is the proposed natural-gas pipeline that would pierce northern Utah's mountains, carrying Wyoming natural gas to California. Brunsdale, who has donated legal services to an anti-pipeline citizens group, has continuously hammered Hansen for doing nothing to stop the routing that would take the pipeline through Mueller Park and other watersheds above Bountiful.
Hansen - whose bill in February to stop the pipeline has gone nowhere - has tried hard not to make the pipeline an issue.
While Brunsdale accuses Hansen of ignoring the pipeline issue, Jenks accuses Brunsdale of avoiding the wilderness issue of Southern Utah, where most voters despise environmentalists. Hansen wants 1.4 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land set aside as wilderness; Brunsdale wants between 3 million and 5 million acres.
Regardless of who's avoiding which issue, it's clear that Hansen has personally avoided Brunsdale, having met him only once for a face-to-face debate. Other debates were done by phone or satellite.
"It's been a lonely road," said Brunsdale.
It's also been lonely in the polls, which, barring an unforeseen political miracle, indicate Hansen is on his way back to Washington next year.
In the latest Deseret News/KSL Poll, Hansen is leading Brunsdale 57 percent to 31 percent. In April, the polls showed Hansen ahead 54-21 with 20 percent undecided.