Traditionally Utah has had 5 electoral votes--3 congresscritters and 2 senators. But a lot has changed in Utah since 2008.
In 2008, Obama won 3 counties--Grand, Salt Lake, and Summit. He won based on the population centers there--Moab, Salt Lake City, and Park City respectively. He took approximately 1/3 of the votes in Utah. McCain won 596,030 votes, or 62%, and Obama took 327,640 votes, or 34.22%. Now if Utah wasn't a winner take all state, Obama would have had at least 1 electoral vote, but it wasn't so all five went to McCain.
On the surface, there's no reason to think that Romney can't do as well, if not better. He saved the Salt Lake Olympics, for Pete's sake! He's also a Mormon, and if there's one thing you need to know about Mormons, they really, really stick with their own. It's them against the world, in many respects. But I think there are some things happening in Utah right now that might tip the electoral votes in Obama's favor. Maybe I'm just crazy...or maybe there's something to this...follow me below the fold.
First, we need to consider that Utah now has four districts, thus 6 votes. Here's the new map.
Were Salt Lake City to be its own seat, it would be a reliably blue district, and it would also pack the bulk of Utah's Democrats into that single district, making the other three seats easy wins for the GOP.That's ultimately what ended up happening.
Alternately, Salt Lake City could be carved up and each of the state's four seats could claim part of it, with the rest of the area in Utah radiating out from the capitol city. Such a plan would dilute Democratic strength and leave all four districts winnable for Republicans but not make them easy victories.
Utah's token (but very popular) Democrat used to be in the 2nd district, but in the new map, he's now running against Republican Mia Love for the 4th district. The 4th district includes most of Salt Lake County, Davis County, and the very, very conservative Utah County. It was imperative that this new district include Utah County because it was thought that the uber conservatives there would offset the deep blue of Salt Lake and put Matheson in serious danger. And logically that makes sense (or what passes for logic with Utah GOP) but Mia Love is a weak candidate--the RNC is sinking money in Utah advertising against Matheson. Matheson has a conservative voting record (voted against Obamacare) and name recognition. It's very conceivable (likely) that he'll take the 4th district, thus thwarting the plans (at least for a little while) of turning the state blood-red.
This also opens up a seat in the 2nd, where Jay Seegmiller is running. I think he has a decent chance of picking up the seat.
In 2008 Seegmiller ran against and defeated Utah Speaker of the House Greg Curtis; no sitting speaker had been defeated in Utah in 40 years"Greg Curtis served in the state house since 1994. So it was a pretty decent upset. District 2 is
The southeastern part of Salt Lake County and the eastern portion of Utah County were paired in the Second District, now stretching only as far south as Grand County.
In other words, it includes portions of 2 of the counties that went blue for Obama in 2008. Also, it's Matheson's old district, obviously one that is capable of electing a Democrat. He's running against a teabagger candidate Chris Stewart.
One thing that both our Democratic candidates have in their favor? The hispanic population has increased 17% in Utah since the 2000 census. Furthermore, the urban centers of Salt Lake, Moab, and Park City are deeply blue and growing, despite the recession. It's within the realms of possibility for Utah to pick up this seat in congress.
Which brings us to Orrin Hatch.
Orrin Hatch is in a very weak position right now. Forced into a primary by the state teabaggers, he's vulnerable the same way Bob Bennet was. But until 2010, the teabaggers aren't going to be able to throw their weight around. This is a presidential election year, after all, and Democrats, Independents, and even some sane Republicans might show up to vote for Obama, which will likely lead to straight Dem ticket voting. But who can Hatch count on this year? He's pissed off the teabaggers, and they can (and will) run a write-in campaign for their guy. His donations are way, way down this year... He's only raised 1.8 million, compared to 2006 when he raised $6.5 million. The righties who show up to vote for Romney are not guaranteed to vote for Hatch.
In a January 2012 UtahPolicy.com poll of 1,291 Salt Lake County Republican caucus participants, 42% went for Hatch, 23% Liljenquist, 5% Herrod, and 30% were undecided. In a January 28, 2012 straw poll of 194 votes at the Box Elder County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner, 42% went for Liljenquist, 41% for Hatch, and 17% for Herrod.
Do the teabaggers have enough numbers in this election year to send another one of their own to the Senate? Doubtful, but they sure have enough to make Hatch have a real bad year. He won his primary by about 70,000 votes, or 66% of the vote (Obama won the state by more votes than the Utah senate primary had total). His Democratic challenger is Scott Howell. Scott Howell has served in the Utah State Senate for three terms, and has a reputation for being a conservative Democrat. It's hard to find current polling, but people to the far right will probably not vote for Hatch (especially after his dismissive comments about the teabagger movement) and conservative independents or traditionally Republican voters can probably vote for Howell without too much heartache. Either way, Hatch has probably lost at least 1/3 of his support that he won't be getting back on election day.
So that's potentially 3 electoral votes for the Dems and 3 for the GOP.
The tie breaker for Obama will be the popular vote.
Salt Lake County represents the biggest bloc of voters in the state with 359,576 ballots cast in 2008. Obama only won the county narrowly--by about 300 votes but win it he did. His total was 176,988--which represents more votes than most of the other counties combined. He won Summit county by about 3000 votes, with nearly 10,000 in his favor, and Grand by about 200, with 1,981 in his favor. Now as I mentioned above, this was only about 1/3 of the electorate in Utah, but then again...things are changing.
The very same demographic shifts that affect Hatch will have an impact on Obama. First, it's not a guarantee that Romney will pick up all the red votes. Quite frankly, people in Utah know Mittens, probably better than anybody else in the country, and I have not sensed one iota of support for him. I've seen a grand total of 2 bumper stickers, I see no signs for him, there are no billboards for him, there's nothing. Sure, Mormons will vote for him, but some are very strongly teabaggers. They may not think Mittens is far enough to the right. Some just plain don't like him--my girl on "the inside" (my most active Mormon friend) reports that people seem to hate him in her neck of the woods (which happens to be one of the counties Obama took...which includes Park City where Mittens essentially cheated on his taxes back in 2001).
Obama only lost to McCain by 250,000 votes. Could those 250,000 votes be made up? It's a very big discrepancy, I know. Though in larger states it could be an easier swing. But I think it's possible. Though only 3 counties went blue, they were three of the larger ones, population wise, and there were some that were pretty damned close, including Carbon (McCain won 3,960 to 3,368), San Juan (2,586 to 2,322) and Tooele (10,201 to 5,349). The biggest county he lost was Utah, and honestly, I expect him to lose there again, but I do think it's very possible for him to pick up more than the 26,000 votes he got there last time, since that's where Matheson will be on the ticket...and Sarah Palin was HUGELY popular down there. Will Mittens be as popular? Probably around Provo, but the same people who could shove Hatch out will be the ones voting, (they can write in their guy, Liljenquist in, who did attract 1/3 of the vote in the primary against Hatch) and if they show up to do that, they could go third party, taking more votes away from Romney. In 2008, the Constitution candidate picked up 12,025 votes, Nader had 8,400 votes, and Bob Barr had nearly 7,000 votes. Not a huge percentage of the vote, granted, but the ones who don't vote for a major candidate tend to go to the right. All it would take is teabaggers peeling away from the GOP and depressed turnout in red counties (would you go out in the bitter November cold to vote for Romney if you didn't really like him? Would you do it if his defeat was a foregone conclusion and you live in what's assumed to be the reddest state in the West? I can imagine devout Mormons showing up to cast the symbolic vote for their guy, but I can just as easily imagine people staying home, too).
Factor in an increase of blue votes in the blue districts due to changing demographics (and there are many involved, eager volunteers at OFA in Salt Lake. And lots of people who find the current GOP pretty terrifying. I hear them talking about it...far more than I remember anybody talking about it in 2008).
Obama's popularity with Latinos might very well be the boost he needs--it doesn't get reported on as much, but Utah's legislature is nearly as crazy as Arizona's when it comes to immigration laws and casual racism. Last year the DOJ sued Utah for it's immigration legislation
Specifically, the lawsuit challenges three sections of HB497 that require law enforcement to verify the legal status of those arrested for class A misdemeanors or felonies, allow the warrantless arrest of those suspected of being in the country illegally, and make it a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants.). Utah's latino population is still growing.
SALT LAKE CITY — Hispanics accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population increase between 2000 and 2010 with the Hispanic population growing at four times the overall growth rate, according to a new Census Bureau report.There are many DREAMer's in Utah, and consequently, a large community who now have good reason to show up on Election Day. Latino's account for 12% of voting population but only 2% of the vote in 2008--if OFA can reach out to them in Utah and GOTV, it could be significant enough to move the margin of victory in Obama's favor.
In Utah, the overall population grew 23.8 percent during that decade with Hispanics accounting for 77.8 percent of that growth.
And interestingly enough, in 2008 neither campaign visited Utah. Joe Biden visited Park City this summer, though (sadly I couldn't attend though it was far cheaper than Romney's shindig the week before Biden's arrival!) and I hear tell from certain people in the know that Clinton will be holding a fundraiser here. Two campaign visits is better than no campaign visits! In 2008, Barak Obama also raised $1 million more than McCain did in Utah. Though currently there are only national campaign ads airing in Utah--in many ways it doesn't even feel like there's an election happening here. If Utah does manage to swing those 250,000 votes, a HUGE part of that will have to be OFA and GOTV.
I'm not saying the odds are so great you should run and place your bets. And maybe my analysis reads like a crackpot's wet dream. But Utah is not a "gimme" for Romney, and if he continues to implode like this, I think the state will be very, very close. A combination of redistricting, downticket races, teabagger destructive politics, Romney's implosion, a motivated Latino population, and the growing groundswell of support sweeping across the nation for Obama might contribute to the explosion of many heads on Election night when MSNBC calls the Mormon state for Obama (and when the house and the senate each gain a Democratic seat from Utah...).
Donate $3 to Jay Seegmiller and help turn Congress Blue.
Donate $3 to Scott Howell and send Hatch home for good.
Donate $3 to Jim Matheson because it's a numbers game and blue is better than red.