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Key Utah Democrats Survive "Romney Tsunami"

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2012-11-07 -

Utah Republicans expected they could ride the wave of Mitt-mania and claim some competitive seats in the state held by Democrats. But by the end of the night, Congressman Jim Matheson, D-Utah, narrowly prevailed and left Republicans wondering if it would take kryptonite to knock him off his seat—while Ben McAdams claimed the Salt Lake County mayor’s seat for the Democrats.

That’s not to say, however, that Mitt-mania didn’t help drive Republicans out to the polls statewide, where Romney garnered 72 percent of the state’s vote, and in Salt Lake County, where the Mittster took 57 percent of the vote. But Salt Lake County also delivered for Democrats like Matheson, who won his battle against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love by just 2,818 votes. Matheson had his biggest gains in Salt Lake County, pulling in 15,646 more votes than Love. His opponent, by contrast, dominated in Utah County, but even there took only 10,624 more votes from Matheson.

At the Utah State Democratic Victory Party, Matheson did not appear among supporters until he emerged after midnight to announce his hard-fought win. Appearing before the crowd, Matheson explained his belief in bipartisan work and that collaboration was his defining feature as a public servant.

“This is who I am and how I’ve always sought to move forward, by leading from the center to bring people together,” Matheson said.

It was a tough race for Matheson, whose opponent, Love, was bolstered by millions of dollars in out-of-state donations, as well as being backed by public endorsements from GOP all-stars ranging from House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to a commercial endorsement from Mitt Romney himself.

In other races, Democrats did not fare so well. Unsurprisingly, gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke and Senate challenger Scott Howell were trounced in their races despite strong workman-like campaigns. Salt Lake City councilman Soren Simonsen likewise was obliterated in his bid against Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Democrat Jay Seegmiller also was defeated by Chris Stewart in the open 2nd Congressional District race.

A sharper blow to Democrats came in the Senate District 8 race, where the open seat left by former state senate Democrat Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake City, passed to Republican challenger Brian Shiozawa, who claimed 56 percent of the vote to challenger Josie Valdez’s 43.8 percent.

Democrats, however, held on to the Salt Lake County Mayor’s seat that’s been occupied by Democrat Peter Corroon for the past eight years. McAdams got a fundraising head start against his opponent, Mark Crockett, since McAdams won his nomination at the County Convention in April, while Crockett went to a close showdown with rival West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder in a June Primary race. McAdams was able to raise more than $800,000 for his campaign, compared to a little more than $300,000 from Crockett, in a grueling race that also saw the candidates punch it out over policy points in 16 separate debates.

McAdams says in the end it was crossover support from moderates and Republicans who responded to his message of wanting the county to build coalitions and lead on issues like education that helped him win his race.

“It’s a big victory and it’s a solid win,” McAdams told City Weekly. “And it confirms what we’ve known all along that Salt Lake County voters vote the person over the party and they did that today.”

Indeed, what was considered to be a neck-and-neck race turned out to be a comfortable win for McAdams, who from the beginning of election night, held onto a nine-point lead over Crockett to close the evening out with 32,745 more votes than his opponent—54.8 percent of the vote to Crockett’s 45 percent.

Ironically, the polls had swayed much over the weekend, when The Salt Lake Tribune commissioned a poll that inaccurately reported Crockett was holding a 10-point lead in the polls. But as votes trickled in, it was clear that the advantage throughout the night had been McAdams'.

“They must have mixed up the names in their polls,” McAdams said. “It wasn’t the numbers that were bad, it was the names.”

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