Democrat Scott Leckman faces long odds in his race against incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah. But he seems assured of at least one great consolation prize.
The Salt Lake surgeon should attract major attention to innovative programs he has long pushed that have helped millions of the world's poorest people pull themselves out of poverty - really - and which may soon expand work in Utah.Ever heard of "microcredit" or the charity group "Results?" They have flitted in and out of attention by the news media. But Leckman's campaign could make their remarkable accomplishments universally known and supported in Utah.
Leckman says that isn't why he is running. "I'm running to win," he says - noting he will soon suspend his surgical practice at St. Mark's Hospital to work full time on the race.
"I'm not setting aside my practice and putting all this energy into it just to fall on my sword," he adds.
But Bennett has a $351,178 head start in cash-on-hand for his campaign, according to new disclosure forms. The multimillionaire spent about $2 million of his own money in his first race - and Leckman says he cannot come close to matching that kind of money.
Not surprisingly, Leckman plans to make campaign finance reform an issue - saying too many rich candidates, especially in Utah, have been buying seats in Congress.
But Utahns may be more interested in a program he has helped push worldwide that has helped some of the poorest on earth to start their own businesses and work out of poverty.
He and the Results charity he volunteers for have been U.S. leaders attracting money and support for "microcredit," which was pioneered in Bangladesh by a Muhammad Yunnis, a Vanderbilt University-trained economist.
Yunnis ignored conventional wisdom to make tiny loans to people whom banks would normally ignore: the poorest of the poor. But a loan of just $50 or so would allow them to buy a cow, chickens or reeds - allowing them to sell milk, eggs or baskets and work out of poverty.
Yunnis' Grameen bank has loaned $2 billion in such small loans over the past 20 years, and 98 percent of loans have been repaid. More than 2 million of the poor in Bangladesh now receive loans without collateral, and 94 percent of borrowers are women.
Leckman brought Yunnis to Utah last year to talk to universities, bankers and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about his programs that have spread to 50 countries - and to help build support for a modified microcredit program in Utah.
"It's very applicable to Utah," Leckman says. "As we tell people to get off welfare, there's not enough jobs for all those people. This is a great way to get people involved in self employment and make their own way."
He notes that the Utah Microenterprise Fund is growing and has made more than 100 loans in the five years, averaging $8,000 each. He says interest is growing in expanding their work to Utah's Indian reservations, for example.
His desire to help the impoverished and the children of the world is what first made Leckman enter politics. He was among activists who began lobbying their members of Congress 12 years ago seeking to set aside 1 percent of U.S. foreign aid for vaccines and food for poor children. It helped.
Leckman said that helped him learn the system and learn that he can make a difference. And he says he wants to run a campaign to make children and their education and health a priority. He says it will pay off in a stronger economy and less crime.
Of course, he still faces those long odds of opposing a multimillionaire, of being a Democrat in a heavily Republican state - and even being a Methodist in predominantly Mormon Utah.
But compared to helping millions in Bangladesh (and elsewhere) actually escape what had been hopeless poverty, the race probably looks like a piece of cake.