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"To me, that kind of debunks the ‘Romney Tsunami,’" said Quin Monson, director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, who said he believes that voters may have recognized Romney was likely to lose the election and decided to stay home. "I really think that saved Matheson’s bacon."
The story was similar in Utah County, a traditional Republican stronghold, where turnout was essentially the same as it was in 2008.
Getting Out The Vote • If Romney and Republicans failed to get out the vote in the 4th District, the same isn’t true of the Matheson campaign, especially when it comes to the early vote.
Monson said that Matheson has traditionally relied on about 30 percent or more of Republicans to cross over and vote for him. In his good years, it’s been even higher. This year, according to the Utah Colleges Exit Poll, which Monson helps conduct, that figure was in the low 20 percent range.
So how did Matheson emerge a winner?
"The other way to put your winning coalition together is to move your party ID numbers by mobilizing," Monson said.
Matheson was able to target Democrats who often don’t vote and get them to the polls. It was especially clear among early voters, which the Love campaign had thought, incorrectly, it had won easily, but Matheson ended up winning with about 60 percent.
The ground game started back in May, as the field organization began taking shape. They began making voter identification calls and in June — with the backing of state and national staff — started knocking on doors.
"Their field plan was moving ‘lazy Democrats’ to go vote. It was the drum they were beating constantly," said Gonzales. "Clearly the sense was that in order for Jim Matheson to win, you had to go find Democrats who didn’t used to vote and make them vote."
The Libertarian • Matheson may have had a little extra help from an unlikely source.
Jim Vein was the Libertarian candidate in the race who barely registered in discussions, but on Election Day drew more than 5,700 votes. It’s impossible to say why voters backed Vein — perhaps they were Democrats disenchanted with Matheson’s Blue Dog ways.
Or it could have been part of a campaign effort paid for by the Democratic UTE PAC, which spent more than $10,000 to make tens of thousands of calls to Republicans, making the case that Love and Matheson are both bad candidates and they should consider Vein.
"I’m not fan of Jim Matheson. I’ve never made that a big secret. But I also don’t care for Mia Love much, either," said Dimitri Moumoulidis, a Democratic attorney who runs UTE PAC. "Did it help to get Jim Matheson elected? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe those people were already going to vote for him."
Regardless, it appears Matheson will retain his seat in Congress for another two years, at which point he likely will be targeted by national Republicans once again putting his skill and "luck" to the test.
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