Baseball managers and politicians have a lot in common.
They both start their campaigns in the spring and end them in the fall. They start each new season with a roster of proven veterans and hopeful rookies. And managers of each brim with optimism that this will be the year his team takes the pennant.The top prize in the political pennant race could be control of the Utah House of Representatives.
"We have a great, great slate of candidates," said State Republican Party chief H. Craig Moody. "We're going to gain some seats, no doubt about it. We're not going to take back every seat we lost last time, but some of them." At least enough to recapture the two-thirds, veto-proof, majority in the House, Moody predicted.
"We have assembled the finest group of candidates we have ever had. They will knock your socks off," boasted State Democratic Party skipper Randy Horiuchi. "Last time we netted 13 more seats (in the House), and we have a better bunch this time than we did before."
That could translate into a Democratic majority in the House, he promised.
As any baseball manager will tell you, it's easy to make promises in the spring. It's a lot harder to keep them in the fall.
The Republicans have had a stranglehold on both the House and the Senate since 1980. But in 1986, the party was badly embarrassed, losing 13 seats in the House and another couple in the Senate. Moody is determined that isn't going to happen again.
"The Democrats cherry-picked the easy swing seats last time around," he said, borrowing a basketball phrase. "Now it will be work for them to pick up any more than what they've got."
Moody says he has fielded "fantastic" candidates in most of the House districts lost to Demos in 1986. "We're going after them."
Republicans, said Moody, remain vulnerable in three districts: District 24, held by Olene Walker, R-Salt Lake; District 49, held by Boyd Warnick, R-Salt Lake; and District 57, held by Christine Fox, R-Lehi.
"It's amazing I have won the seat four times," said Minority Whip Walker. "It's always been a swing seat, and when I win I don't win by much." Last time she won by 110 votes.
Swing seats, which traditionally change parties almost every election, feature fierce election battles, as do seats where incumbents do not seek re-election. Eleven Republicans and one Democrat are not seeking re-election.
Yet Moody, R-Sandy, who will be challenged by former Sandy Mayor Paul Thompson, does not seem concerned that so many Republicans are not seeking re-election.
Several prominent Republicans will not be returning. Rep. Craig Call, R-Provo, is moving to Idaho, and Reps. Craig Peterson, R-Orem, and John Redd, R-Bountiful, are running for open Senate seats. All three districts are considered "safe" GOP seats.
Reps. Ray Free, Ralph Tate, Frank Johnson and Dale Warner will also not be seeking re-election. Moody is confident of retaining those seats, as well.
The Democrats, however, aren't about to concede any races. Last election, they took a "safe" seat from Republicans in Cache County, and two others in Springville and Spanish Fork.
"People said I was crazy last time when I said we would double our numbers in the House," Horiuchi said. "Then we went out and went from 14 to 27. Hopefully people will leverage me some credibility this time when I say we can pick up 11 more seats."
Both Republicans and Democrats admit the legislative races could very well be decided by issues other than who is the better candidate.
Republicans say a high voter turnout in presidential election years favors Republican candidates.
Democrats say they will be helped by strong showings by gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson and congressional candidate Gunn McKay. "If they run strong, we stand to gain quite a few seats," said House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich.
Moody discounted any "coattail" effect. "(Former Gov. Scott) Matheson didn't have a coattail effect. And you can't begin to compare Ted Wilson to Scott Matheson."
The tax protest could also have an effect on elections, particularly in races that are traditionally close. While tax limitation candidates are scarce, Horiuchi is hoping protesters will say, "Republicans had their chance. It's time to take a broom and sweep the rascals out of office."
Moody said he is confident conservative tax protesters won't vote for "spend-and-tax Democrats. I don't see the tax protest movement doing anything but helping us."
Horiuchi said he has targeted the GOP stronghold of Cache County for more Democratic gains. Frank Prante was the first Democrat elected to the Legislature there in 30 years when he won in 1986.
"We're going to pummel them in Cache County," predicted Horiuchi.
"No way they can take conservative areas in Cache and Box Elder," countered Moody. "We've got too good of candidates in northern Utah."
In addition to solidifying their hold on Weber and Salt Lake counties, Democrats have targeted the Taylorsville-Bennion and West Jordan districts where they picked up a couple of seats last time and came very close in other races.
Lost in the battle for control of the House are several good Senate races. Democrats concede they won't take control of the Senate, but they are counting on picking up at least one, maybe three, seats there, setting the stage for a Democratic Senate by the 1990 or 1992 elections.
They are optimistic that former West Jordan Mayor Dennis Randall can unseat GOP Sen. Stephen Rees, R-Taylorsville, and that former representative Roger Rawson can unseat Glade Nielsen, R-Roy. Rees also faces a challenge from former legislator Brent Overson, a Republican.
Two GOP senators, Jack Bangerter and Ivan Matheson, are not seeking re-election, but both seats are in traditionally Republican districts.