In politics, you sometimes get a feeling of deja vu - that "Haven't I been here before" sensation.
I had that feeling the other day, when suddenly I confused the political problems of Gov. Norm Bangerter with those of former President Jimmy Carter. Impossible, you say. Consider the following coincidences.Both men's parties are dominant in their political spheres - more Americans are Democrats, more Utahns are Republicans.
Both men were not their parties' early front-runners - Carter's candidacy was almost a joke when he announced he'd run for president in 1976. Bangerter had little statewide name identification and was well behind former Rep. Dan Marriott at the start of the 1984 governor's race.
The offices Carter and Bangerter were running for were held by minority-party executives - Republican President Gerald Ford and Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson - and majority-party voters were ready and anxious to get one of theirs in.
Carter's and Bangerter's campaigns gained momentum as the election year went forward, and both won in their first attempt at their goal.
Once in office, events came fast and furious. While Carter's and Bangerter's management styles were different, they both had the common man's touch. Both were respected for their personal moral integrity. And both were congenial and well-liked by those who knew them personally.
Both Carter and Bangerter have been criticized - publicly by the opposing party, privately by members of their own party - for their leadership qualities. But both were willing to take tough stands and make difficult decisions.
And both were overtaken by single, major events that definitely marred their political careers.
Carter helped the ailing Shah of Iran. Angry radical Iranians took hostage the U.S. diplomatic corps in Tehran. Carter couldn't solve the problem, made worse by the failed military attempt to free the hostages. The crisis wouldn't go away, and the hostages were still held during Carter's 1980 re-election effort.
Bangerter recommended the largest tax increase in the state's history in 1987. He underestimated the public's reaction. A tax protest movement sprang up and continues to dog him during his re-election effort.
In a rare occurrence, Carter, a sitting president, was challenged within his own party by Sen. Ted Kennedy, a heavy-hitter by any Democratic standards. Carter dug in his heels and prepared for a tough intraparty fight. Kennedy got out of the race early, however.
Bangerter was challenged by Republican industrialist Jon Huntsman. Huntsman was definitely a GOP force, and many believed Bangerter was finished. But Bangerter refused to quit and prepared to battle Huntsman down to the wire. Huntsman decided to withdraw from the race early.
The Carter and Bangerter races also saw independent candidates who made early splashes. John Anderson's run for the presidency ultimately fizzled in 1980. Bangerter's re-election may depend on how well independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook does this year.
Carter's Republican opponent was Ronald Reagan. Bangerter's Democratic opponent is Ted Wilson. While Reagan and Wilson have a great many differences, both are charismatic men who do well on TV. Both have been criticized for having more flair than substance.
Carter and Bangerter both suffer from the defection of loyal party members to the opposing camp. A significant number of Democrats and independents voted for Reagan. Polls show that 35 percent of Republicans say they'll vote for Wilson.
Even though there are more Democrats in America than Republicans, the dissatisfaction with the job Carter did as president proved too much for him. In Utah, more than half of those polled don't like the job Bangerter is doing as governor.
Carter lost to the minority-party candidate, Reagan.
If Bangerter doesn't want to experience deja vu on Nov. 8, he's going to have to turn around his gubernatorial campaign and bring Republicans back into his camp. And he must do it all within several months.