Make no mistake, this is a big-time move for Love if she decides to make another run at Jim Matheson.
There were rumblings during the 2012 campaign that Republicans asked Hansen to leave Orrin Hatch’s campaign and take over the floundering Love operation. Many worried that Love had become enamored with her own celebrity and didn’t do enough of the “nuts and bolts” things she needed to in order to beat Matheson. That may have contributed to her narrow loss by a scant 768 votes.
Hiring Hansen is brilliant. He ran a nearly flawless campaign for Orrin Hatch in 2012, guiding him to another term in the Senate. When running a campaign, Hansen doesn’t make unforced errors. He won’t lose elections, he forces you beat him -- which is hard to do.
Love’s hiring of Hansen accomplishes a number of important things for her. It gives her an incredible head start over any other candidates who may be thinking about joining the race and makes them think twice about going up against her.
Anyone who opposes Love for the GOP nomination could make the case that she squandered a golden opportunity to take down Matheson in 2012. It was a year with Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket in Utah, which should have resulted in an easy win. Hansen’s presence on Love’s campaign helps to deflect those attacks.
Hansen will also help her bring in donations. There was a thought that when Love lost, she wouldn’t get another chance. The conventional wisdom after the election said big donors would likely shy away from donating again, keeping her out of the race. Having Hansen at the helm should assuage any fears that Love could choke again. National Republicans are once again targeting Utah’s 4th District and are poised to throw significant resources at Matheson to unseat him. There may be some hesitation to get behind Love after what happened in November. Hansen will minimize that. Plus, his connections in Washington from his time as head of the Utah GOP will open up more fundraising doors usually not available to congressional challengers.
Starting now, Love is a part of the conversation a full 20 months before the 2014 midterms. Any story involving Matheson by extension involves Love. She can build name recognition and begin making her case long before anyone else enters the fray.
But it’s not all gloom and doom for Matheson. The last time he faced a challenger for a second time after a narrow win, Matheson did okay for himself. In 2002, John Swallow lost to Matheson by 1,641 votes. When the two faced off again in 2004, Matheson cruised to victory by more than 39,000 votes.
Like Love this time around, Swallow started laying the groundwork for his second challenge early in the process. But, his campaign relied on consultants from out of state, which many attribute to his big loss.
Matheson also has a huge advantage Love cannot match -- incumbency. As a sitting congressman, Matheson has a full election cycle to get voters in the 4th Congressional District to support him. This same dynamic was in play between 2002 and 2004, when Matheson had to adjust to new district borders. The first election following a redistricting is usually most dangerous for a vulnerable incumbent; 2014 will be the second. Matheson will have a tactical advantage this time around, and his seven terms in Congress have taught him how to use that to its fullest.
Even though Hansen’s presence on Love’s campaign presents a real danger for Matheson, he won’t panic. During the height of the 2012 campaign, when poll after poll showed him to be vulnerable, Matheson was calm, cool and collected. He, like Hansen, knows how to win elections in Utah. Plus, with Democrats making a push to regain control of the House in 2014, he can count on financial and logistical support from the national party.
That’s what makes this possible rematch between Matheson and Love so intriguing. Matheson just barely fended off a tough challenge from Love and Hansen should help her immensely. Matheson usually has a material and financial advantage over his opponent, but not this time around. On the other hand, Hansen has always had the better candidate and the built-in advantage of incumbency. This time, he’ll have to play offense instead of defense.
Despite being 20 months away, I already can’t wait for November of 2014.