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Intellect

New dynamic predicted for 2nd District race

BYU study of 2002 campaign published by Brookings Institution

As soon as Utah Republicans nominate their candidate to challenge Jim Matheson, national parties and interest groups that sat on the sidelines in 2002 will jump into the fray this time around, says a Brigham Young University political scientist.

Professor Kelly Patterson, director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, predicts an influx of outside participation based on his in-depth study of the 2002 Second District election, when Representative Jim Matheson edged out Republican opponent John Swallow by 1,642 votes. Patterson's case study is one of the races featured in a new book published by The Brookings Institution and edited by BYU's David Magleby, dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, and Quin Monson, BYU political science professor.

"In 2002, a politically savvy incumbent had to run a perfect campaign to retain his seat," said Patterson, who is also chair of BYU's political science department. "Interest groups and party leaders won't repeat their mistake by missing another golden opportunity."

Patterson's case study of the race details information from post-election interviews with campaign managers, national party leaders and representatives from major interest groups. The 14-page report also includes campaign expenditure data, insights into voter behavior from exit polls and descriptions of the volume of various campaign tactics.

Even if a Matheson-Swallow rematch materializes following the Republican primary, the campaigns will take on much different looks. New twists that Patterson expects this time around are as follows:

  • In 2002, Patterson's reconnaissance team identified 50 unique mailers and 15 phone banks. "Ground-war" campaigning, including telephone calls, direct mail and door-to-door canvassing, will increase in this cycle.

  • Earlier interest group involvement and more overall interest group engagement than 2002, when Club for Growth contributed $95,000 to Swallow in the final month of the campaign and the National Education Association sent out seven mailers on Matheson's behalf.

  • Higher levels of campaign expenditures by candidates than in 2002. Matheson and Swallow spent a combined $2.5 million two years ago. Part of the explanation for the expected shift in campaign tactics has to do with new campaign rules. Among the changes are a restriction on television ads by non-candidate groups 60 days before the November election and limits on how parties use soft-money donations.

    Most groups that might have participated in 2002, and even the Democratic Party, took their cues from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which spent its money elsewhere early on after the Swallow campaign emerged from the primary in debt. A poll taken in October showed Swallow trailing Matheson by a wide margin, confirming the NRCC's decision to stay out. One week later another poll reported Swallow behind by only one percentage point, which prompted a blitz of NRCC-sponsored television ads that proved to be too little, too late.

    "The rules of the game have changed somewhat, but the big difference this year is that outside players better appreciate their opportunity to swing this race one way or the other," said Patterson.

    Another BYU political science professor, Gary Bryner, will monitor the 2004 contest and afterward produce a case study similar to Patterson's.

    "The Second District race may be a kind of proxy for the presidential race because the presidential candidates will spend little time in Utah," Bryner said. "The congressional candidates will have to grapple with many of the issues dividing the presidential candidates."

    Writer: Joseph Hadfield

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