Things To Act
Monday, February 09, 2004
Public Opinion at $50/vote
As mentioned immediately below, I managed to score a ticket to the Utah County Republican straw poll on Saturday (links to DesNews and SLTrib below--newsnet ran an article today but doesn't have it online. However, it's the only one of the three that even hints that the reporter was actually there). The event was interesting--political pageantry, various forms of bribery, etc. The food wasn't worth $50, but then, I doubt very many people actually paid for their own tickets, thanks to the generosity of campaigns trolling for votes.

General comments on the voting: No ballot security whatsoever--I could have run to Kinko's and run off dozens more ballots had I wanted to skew the vote, and the party would have had no way of knowing. Not only that, but they announced halfway through the voting period not to vote in both Congressional races (badly designed ballot), then proceeded to count double-votes anyway. Not impressive at all. (No dinner security for that matter—you only needed a ticket to get a ballot, not to get in. Maybe next time I’ll go for free…)

My impressions of the various politicians on display:

General comments on the speeches: equipped with the proper "Republican Bingo" card, this event could have been fun for even the nonpolitical. Just mark the box every time someone mentions activist judges, honoring the military, the importance of family, the fact that his wife is in the audience, the desirability of lower taxes, the evils of the Super Bowl, etc. The other issue I noted generally is that if the rumblings here were any indication, the right base is not at all happy with the President on No Child Left Behind, immigration reform, and spending generally. That could spell trouble come November (or not, as it's not like anyone there would vote for Kerry).

Senator Bennett (no credible opposition in either party) was the first speaker with five minutes to use as he wanted (everyone else got three). He chose to use it to bash the Democrats running for president--comparing Edwards to Moseley Braun ('less time in Senate, smaller state, less important committee assignments--why is everyone taking him more seriously then her?'), bashing Clark's political opportunism and 'character and integrity' issues, bashing Dean's temperament, and pointing out that Kerry complains about the deficit while voting for greater spending, and is inconsistent on the war. On the whole, this choice of topic struck me as odd--it's not as if anyone there was going to vote Democratic, and if Bush can't hold Utah without effort, he hasn't got a prayer in November. A more effective approach, it would have seemed to me, would be to simply remind everyone there that their votes wouldn't matter much, but $2000 to Bush's campaign would. I would also have appreciated hearing the Senator talk about something a little more meaningful, as I don't know much about him (Hatch tending to overshadow the whole Utah delegation). Oh well. At least the campaign literature he had on hand, consisting of the text of an Independence Day celebration speech he gave last year, was interesting reading.

District 2 (3 challengers, Matheson (D) is the incumbent):

Wild[?]--didn't catch the guy's name, but his platform was mainly that he could carry Salt Lake county while the other two couldn't. Since he only pulled in 4% of the straw poll vote, Utah County doesn't seem to be buying it (while the straw poll is horribly unscientific, my impression was that the gubernatorial campaigns did most of the vote-buying, meaning the congressional races are probably closer to useful, for what it's worth. Not that I trust them that much, but what else do we have at this point?).

Swallow: Hit the standard Republican stock phrases (limited government, Lincoln, liberal judges, family, etc), along with mentioning the $500K he's raised already. I rated his speech at so-so. For some reason he manages to really annoy me (probably at least party because he managed to lose a district specifically gerrymandered for an easy Republican win--and acts like his close finish gives the right to be the nominee again without opposition). His campaign literature is also pretty annoying. The most relevant part of his speech was his highlighting (to a limited degree) of Matheson's nonrepresentativeness of Utah voters--but he failed to make the case as to why he should be Matheson's replacement.

Bridgewater: Unfortunately didn't do much better. Was somewhat stumbling and halting, and wasted quite a bit of time bashing the Democratic presidential candidates--then ran over his allotted time, which was obvious to everyone in the audience by the time he realized it. Mentioned that he was running on conservative Republican principles, but didn't really highlight the differences between himself and Swallow, or make his case that Swallow had blown his chance already. Pulled in 36% of the straw poll to Swallow's 60%--he's got quite a bit of work to do if that's at all indicative of delegate sentiment, particularly since he probably can't afford a primary (and hence needs 60% in convention). However, a source in the campaign said they hadn't really begun in earnest yet (which is either good or bad, depending).

District 3 (Chris Cannon (R) is the incumbent, two party challengers). In general, this set of speakers was more compelling (with respect to speaking style) than any of the last three:

Throckmorten: Evidently just entered the race. Mainly talked about immigration--mentioned that Utah allowed illegal aliens to have drivers’ licenses and instate college tuition. Also went off on NCLB, calling for its conversion into block grants for the states. As I disagree with several of the implications of his immigration arguments, and have yet to be convinced of the evils (or virtues) of NCLB, I didn't feel he made much of a case against Cannon.

Hawkins: Went off on NCLB, the deficit, entitlements. Didn't, however, make much of a case as to why Cannon should go. His literature is interesting--a long booklet about policy, which is better than the vague statements most candidates put out. However, it wasn't nearly specific enough to consist of detailed policy proposals (as if one Rep could even get such a thing passed without significant compromise), and had an annoying habit of not citing sources on the spot, an anathema to someone in the social sciences. My two biggest concerns with him, however, are the fact that all of his discussion of civility doesn't seem to fit in with Senator Hatch's account of how his supporters behaved at the 2000 convention (see Square Peg), and he doesn't ever make the case against Cannon, an essential requirement to make an intraparty challenge credible.

Cannon: Put in a plug for Jim Hansen (off in DC saving Hill AFB), and for the state officials working with the feds to implement NCLB. Seemed a nice piece of defense on NCLB without giving his challengers the dignity of a direct response. I suspect he's probably pretty safe (63% of the straw vote, with his opponents essentially splitting the difference). His literature, featuring actual policy discussion (no one else mentioned, say, health savings accounts), was effective as well.

Gubernatorial race:

Hellewell: Talked about controlling spending and taxes. Didn't explain how a conservative legislator from the most conservative county in the state could expect to win statewide. Didn't change the impression I'd already had that he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell.

Stephens: Talked about economic development, quality of education (funding, accountability, choice), governmental efficiency (called for a Grace commission for Utah), governmental protection of freedoms (life, arms, property, parental rights--quite the Republican list), and the principle of individual responsibility (dependence on government costs freedom). All nice sounding rhetoric, though he didn't really explain how he would put it into practice.

Eyre: Blamed the then-open primary for his '92 loss to Leavitt. Mad at the Utah media for giving more time to the Democratic presidential candidates than to the gubernatorial race. Claimed he'd spent the past 12 years working for the family, and wanted to continue doing so by running for office.

Hansen: Not only could he not make it, but his surrogate couldn't make it either, leading to an awkward moment. Hopefully that won't cost him too much Utah County support.

Lampropolous: Couldn't make it, but had a video prepared. Basically nothing that hadn't already been said by someone else. No mention of his double-divorce, unless that was the reason the other candidates kept introducing their wives.

Huntsman: My first impression was 'he looks even younger than I thought he would,' which is probably not a good sign unless he gets to the general (Matheson is about the same age). He tried to joke about being the ideal candidate to challenge Matheson's use of family coattails, but I'm not sure how well it works. Discussed economic development, etc. I'm still not sure what he has besides a famous name, but perhaps time will tell.

Herbert: bragged about the record of Utah county--low taxes, high growth, etc, during his watch. While I have sympathy for his effort (whoever heard of a county commissioner being famous for anything, let alone becoming governor?), I don't know if he was engaging enough to stand out in the crowd.

Karras: an imposing presence--somewhat dry and dignified (and he told the extroverted CPA joke)--but he looks like a governor should. Probably one of the only ones up there I'd actually trust to analyze a policy problem himself instead of relying on his advisers or rhetoric. However, his message was basically more of the same, if better delivered--education (empowered parents, local control), economic development (using the universities/colleges as growth incubators), and innovation.

Overall, good fun, though a bit disappointing in the sense that the candidates could have made much better policy/ideology arguments instead of preaching to the choir. We'll see how the delegates do at sifting the wheat from the chaff.

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