Utah's 3rd congressional district proved for the fourth time in a row to be a Republican fortress with congressman Howard Nielson rolling past Democrat Bob Stringham 128,929 to 59,620.
Nielson had a matter-of-fact reaction to the victory after leading in the polls since the race started taking shape almost one year ago. Nielson said he predicted he would be victorious with a margin between 67 percent, an amount equal to his win in 1986 over Dale Gardiner, and 74 percent, his 1984 total against Bruce Baird.The unofficial returns compiled by the Utah Election Service showed Nielson taking 66.8 percent and Stringham taking 30.89 percent. American Party candidate Dean Christensen claimed 3,250 votes for 1.68 percent of the ballots cast, and Socialist Workers Party candidate Judy Stranahan won 1,195 votes for .61 percent. The vote totals and percentages reflect a reporting of 99.9 percent of the voting districts.
Stringham carried only Carbon County, the Democratic stronghold of the 13 counties in the district and the only county Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis carried in Utah.
Stringham said the almost 31 percent he claimed represented a tremendous personal victory even though he did not seize the congressional seat from Nielson, who has represented the district since it was created in 1982.
Nielson carried Utah County by a 3-1 margin and said there was almost no way to make the third district "other than a Republican District as long as Utah County is the anchor." When asked if he thought he could continue winning handily as long as he wanted the seat, Nielson called it a likely prospect "so long as I do a good job."
While watching the election returns roll in Tuesday night as his fourth victory unfolded, Nielson said he plans to run at least one more time, in 1990. Beyond that? "Ask me again in a couple of months and I'll have a better answer for you."
The race drew little attention and was not fought out in the media like the races in the state's other congressional districts. Nielson's big-win record in the past and the perception among political action groups that the district was a Republican stronghold made it difficult for a Democrat challenger to break into the race and be competitive, Stringham said.
Being involved in the Sept. 13 primary against Democrat Craig Oliver was a benefit to the overall campaign, Stringham said, because it brought him media attention he couldn't have afforded to pay for otherwise. But the primary stymied major contributions from political action groups. "By mid-September they had made their contributions."
"For the funding we were able to raise, which was negligible, we did very well," Stringham said. "I came out of the primary in debt. I was able to take this (30.89 percent) with only $10,000. Howard said tonight he spent over $100,000. If I could have raised $20,000 I could have beat him."
"Dollar for dollar, I raised almost as much in-state as Howard did," Stringham said. "Most of (Nielson's) money came from out of state."
Nielson did not have a primary challenger and started campaigning full time late in the game because of an extended congressional session.
"What I want everyone to know is it's worth it," Stringham said. "For me this has been my most rewarding experience.
Stringham said he would "have to start raising money tomorrow" should he decide to take a second stab at Nielson in 1990. "Most of my contributions came in $10 and $25 at a time," he said. The financial war chest needed to take on Nielson would take a full two years to assemble, he said.
Nielson has gained a reputation for having low visibility with the media. His claim of being a work horse and not a show horse hasn't played all that well. "I've learned my lesson," he said. "I've got to do a better job communicating with the press."