In her bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, state Sen. Luz Robles will focus almost exclusively on registering new voters and encouraging people to vote by mail.
Her strategy is fueled by a desire to enfranchise Utahns who have become disengaged with government. It also may be her only hope of winning in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, a sprawling, heavily Republican area that stretches from Bountiful through Salt Lake City and all the way to St. George.
The money race
April 1 to June 30
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah
Cash on hand: $96,700
Donna McAleer, D
Cash on hand: $82,900
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah
Cash on hand: $214,900
State Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City
Cash on hand: $20,300
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah
Cash on hand: $256,000
Brian Wonnacott, D
* Didn’t file a campaign-finance report
Mia Love, R
Cash on hand: $873,000
Doug Owens, D
Cash on hand: $209,700
Source: Federal Election Commission
"The only way we are going to turn Utah purple or have more balance in our elections and the government is to have more people participate," she said this week. "It is a huge challenge."
Robles, a Democrat who represents western Salt Lake City and parts of West Valley City in the Legislature, announced her congressional campaign last September. She promised to raise $1 million to wage an aggressive run against Stewart, an author and former owner of an environmental-consulting business, who is in his first term in the House.
But Robles concedes that her original goal is not realistic. She has now downshifted to a volunteer effort to boost the roles of potential Democratic voters. She missed the July 15 campaign-finance deadline, filing three days late. She raised $11,200 in the past three months, nearly half coming from developer Kem Gardner, and she had $20,300 in available funds at the beginning of this month. Since September, she has raised a total of $137,800.
Stewart, who lives in Farmington, amassed $118,200 since April and has $214,900 in available funds. He also has the major advantage of being a Republican in a district that has an 18-percentage-point tilt toward the GOP.
In his first race, he crushed former state Rep. Jay Seegmiller by 28 percentage points.
Robles’ campaign has gone largely dark since the start of the year. She was barred from campaigning during the 45-day legislative session that ended in March, and she said most people don’t pay attention to congressional races in the summer, particularly ones without a primary.
She relaunched her campaign last weekend when a few dozen volunteers canvassed a neighborhood for first-time voters. She promises to run a more high-profile venture in the months to come. Robles took unpaid leave from her job as a vice president of Zions Bank to dedicate herself to the campaign and plans to focus her efforts in parts of Davis, Tooele and Washington counties as she stays connected to the communities she already represents in Salt Lake County.
"This is one vote at a time, one person at a time," she said "That’s what we are going to do for the rest of the campaign — try to encourage as many people as possible to vote by mail."
She hopes it will boost Utah’s weak turnout. In 2012, a presidential election year with adopted favorite son Mitt Romney at the top of the Republican ballot, 57 percent of eligible voters participated. In 2010, which is more analogous to this election year, 33.2 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
Stewart said he’ll pick up the campaign pace in August, when Congress goes on its regular break, and doesn’t plan to change his strategy much the second time around.
"This isn’t brain surgery," he said. "It is not like every year you reinvent the wheel."
Stewart’s goal remains the same as it did two years ago. He needs to introduce himself to a district who is not really sure who he is. Stewart’s first campaign became dwarfed by the attention focused on the 4th District contest, where Rep. Jim Matheson narrowly defeated Mia Love.
"I used to say 90 percent of the state went to vote on Election Day a year and a half ago and thought they were voting for Mia Love or Jim Matheson and they were like, ‘Who is this Chris Stewart guy?’ "
Unlike Robles, Stewart doesn’t need to change the electorate, he would just like voters to feel a connection to their representative.
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