Occasionally, The Salt Lake Tribune’s political reporters and columnists chat about the hottest topics of the week. The following is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation.
Benjamin Wood (reporter): Welcome to the Trib Caucus Slack chat, which convenes weekly during the legislative session but also meets in special caucus during times of fiscal crisis, war, natural disasters or emergencies in the affairs of state.
In this case, I have issued a call of the caucus for a special Halloween slack chat to discuss next week’s midterm elections.
Let’s start with the big topic — the 4th Congressional District — which polling suggests is a neck-and-neck race between Nancy Pelosi and a bag of campaign donations wearing glasses and a fake mustache.
Does anyone have a prediction, hot take or burning question for the Love/McAdams matchup?
Lee Davidson (reporter): I think the Mia Love-Ben McAdams race is too close to call, really — but momentum in the polls seems to be on McAdams' side.
I do predict this is maybe just the first election between the two, with at least one more to come. If Love loses, I see her easily running to regain her seat in two years. If McAdams wins, ditto — unless Democrats draft him as their best shot to run for governor in 2020. In short, my crystal ball does see two more years of ongoing political attacks between the pair.
Robert Gehrke (columnist): Yeah. I’m with Lee. I think Ben McAdams wins the 4th District .... in 2020. This year is gonna be sooo close. I’d guess somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 votes either way. Which I guess considering this race was decided by about 750 votes in 2012, that’s a blowout.
Davidson: This has been Love’s race to lose, and she has suffered some self-inflicted wounds. She raised $1 million for a primary race that was never held. When the FEC questioned it, she fought back instead of simply reallocating and refunding money (which she eventually did anyway).
When she said the FEC had finally ruled in her favor and cleared her, she urged reporters to call the FEC to verify it. The FEC then had no comment, leading to an embarrassing story for her. After pressure from her, the FEC did send an email but it wasn’t quite the full clearance she claimed — but she insisted it was, and even called for “unethical” McAdams to withdraw from the race for saying otherwise.
She then said an outside group had been forced to withdraw ads about its claims about the $1 million, which proved to be false. Lately, her campaign has tried to make the race about whether a McAdams win will make Nancy Pelosi the new House speaker, instead of focusing on local issues — which smacks of a desperation move. Etc. Etc. The unforced errors have hurt her as McAdams has gained in the polls.
Bethany Rodgers (reporter): Do you think the campaign finance question itself has hurt Love as much as her reaction to it?
Gehrke: Her campaign is convinced all the attention paid to the FEC matter has really hurt her. Kept her from getting back on message as we saw that lead whittled away from 9 points to a tie.
Wood: We should note that “all the attention” was largely driven by her side, as Lee illustrated above.
Taylor Stevens (reporter): We did see Nathan Evershed, the Republican candidate for district attorney, face some trouble for this back in September. He exceeded campaign spending caps and returned $18,000 in campaign funds. But he basically said, “Sorry, my bad” and returned it, and that hasn’t been a major thrust of that campaign ever since.
Wood: He said “sorry, my bad” after first telling me the story was a “nothing-burger.”
Stevens: A new poll from KUTV is showing McAdams up 6 points over Love. It will be interesting to see if that really marks a change in the tide of this election or if that’s an aberration, as some have argued.
Wood: But that’s just one of those dirty robo-polls that don’t count, per Love’s campaign.
Gehrke: With respect to the good folks at KUTV, I don’t believe that 6.5-point McAdams lead at all.
Wood: HOT TAKE!
Gehrke: The same poll had Romney up 52-37 in the 4th District. Do we really think Mitt will only win the 4th by 15? He won it 67-30 when he ran for president.
Wood: Yeah that portion of the poll was a red flag. But the favorability numbers largely tracked.
Gehrke: The recent Trib poll had Romney 59-23. So the KUTV poll has some real problems somewhere, or those races have changed a lot ... and there’s nothing to make me believe that the dynamics of the race have actually changed.
Wood: Well the Trib’s polls are always off by 5 points, again per Love’s team.
Davidson: Remember, the Tribune poll and a New York Times poll both have the 4th District as tied.
Wood: New York Times? Never heard of 'em.
Gehrke: The KUTV poll also had McAdams winning 23 percent of Republicans (ours had him winning 15 percent). And they had him dominating among unaffiliateds, winning 87 percent of them (compared to 61 percent in our poll).
Wood: That unaffiliated number is, objectively, shocking
Gehrke: I think based on the direction this race has been moving, McAdams probably pulls it out. But it’ll be in that 1,000 to 1,500 vote margin.
Davidson: We had some fun with early voting numbers yesterday. They may not mean much. But we multiplied the number of votes by party so far by the percentage of support that our poll says candidates have in each party. In short, it suggested that McAdams may be winning 47k to 44k.
The Love folk didn’t dispute that, interestingly. But they said Democrats tend to vote early, and Republicans take their time — but in the past have come in strong for Love.
Eighty-five percent of voters in the district are in Salt Lake County, 11 percent in Utah County. It will be interesting to see how big of a margin that Love must win by in Utah County to win the election. It may be a lot.
Wood: OK, who has a non-CD4 Hot Take and/or burning question?
[Insert medical marijuana joke there^]
Gehrke: I think this DA race between Sim Gill and Nathan Evershed could be closer than some people think. Gill has been taking some hard shots over turnover in the office (See Taylor’s story) , from disgruntled cops and regarding how he’s handled sexual assault cases. He probably wins, but this is usually a pretty competitive race and could be closer than people think.
Wood: The county council has at-large Republican members, so the county is not the blue lock some tend to think it is. I see the DA’s race as likely more competitive than the sheriff’s race, but who really knows?
Rodgers: Has there been any polling in that race?
Gehrke: I could make up some numbers, if you’d like, since polling lower profile races is hard. Let’s say Gill 32, Evershed 27, 40 percent undecided.
Wood: HOT TAKE!
Davidson: Of course, the Tribune endorsed Sim Gill. That could put Evershed over the top.
Rodgers: Or are you ...
Stevens: Interestingly, the sheriff’s race has some similar characteristics to the district attorney’s race. In both, a Republican insider in the office is challenging his Democrat boss. And both are using office politics as a major platform.
Davidson: Same is in the county clerk race.
Wood: 10 points to anyone who can name the GOP clerk candidate without looking it up.
Gehrke: Rozan Mitchell.
Stevens: Rozan Mitchell
Stevens: Gehrke beat me to it!
Gehrke: That has been an interesting dynamic hasn’t it? I don’t know that it resonates all that much with voters who don’t really care as much who sits in which desk, as long as the job gets done. But what do I know?
Rodgers: I wonder whether centering a campaign on internal office politics is a good strategy, though.
Wood: Good point. That’s a literal inside-politics fight
Stevens: It certainly might make the office dynamics more uncomfortable come January, no matter who wins.
Rodgers: Yeah, awkward!
Gehrke: Rozan has been an elections officer under Sherrie Swensen for years. She’s very sharp and competent. I was a little surprised when she ran against her boss though.
Stevens: Speaking of office politics and the county clerk’s race, that one already has had an impact on the office. Mitchell is taking an extended leave of absence because she says the environment became too toxic.
Wood: What does Sim Gill do next if he loses?
Gehrke: I think if he loses, Sim finishes writing his philosophy book. If he wins by a big margin, he’ll have people pushing him to run for AG.
I’m curious where ya’ll think the propositions are going to end up. I have a feeling that Prop. 4 may be the only one that gets across the finish line.
Wood: HOT TAKE!
Gehrke: The hottest of hot takes.
Wood: Q1 started in a losing position, but they’ve blitzed the ads in the final weeks. I expect narrow margins either way for Prop 2 and 3
Davidson: I think Prop 2 will be close, and I still think it passes. Watch that prediction go up in smoke (joke intended).
Davidson: I do think that Prop 4, to create an independent commission to recommend political district boundaries, will likely coast to victory. As supporters say, it’s hard to support gerrymandering. The one potential problem is where the funding has come for the Better Boundaries effort: 69 percent is from out-of-state, and most big donors are Democrats or left-leaning groups. More than half of the group’s money came from just one donor: the Action Now Initiative, an advocacy group founded by billionaires John and Laura Arnold of Texas.
Such funding allowed Senate President Wayne Niederhauser to claim that the proposition is not really about better boundaries, “just better boundaries for Democrats.” He says its real aim is to create a safe congressional district for Democrats in Utah. Supporters say Republicans have gerrymandered districts for decades to hurt Democrats unfairly here.
Rodgers: Utah Patients Coalition just sent out their election night party invitation. But I think, with the promise of a special session on medical marijuana, they’re feeling celebratory either way the Prop 2 vote goes. (edited)
Wood: And there’s literally no organized opposition to Prop 4. Everything else has someone or something fighting it (however belatedly).
Gehrke: Bethany, is it your sense that the margin on Prop 2 (pass or fail) does anything in terms of the leverage the advocates has as they keep tinkering with the compromise language (as you reported last week)?
Rodgers: I definitely think that the Prop 2 vote will make a difference during the session. Christine Stenquist with TRUCE Utah says medical marijuana advocates will essentially be at the mercy of lawmakers if the proposition goes down. The folks with the Utah Patients Coalition seem to feel more confident that they’ll maintain some bargaining power, but I’m sure they’ll be in better position if the voters speak loudly in favor of medical cannabis.
Wood: Considering that the whole reason this is on the ballot is because lawmakers couldn’t get an otherwise-popular proposal across the finish line... I think the margin matters.
Gehrke: I think Prop. 3, to expand Medicaid, is in some real trouble. The polling on that one was tepid, even before they got any opposition. And I think Question 1, the gas tax increase for education (to simplify it) will probably fail. I think voters hate to raise their own taxes and aren’t willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Davidson: They also wonder why gas taxes would go up to pay for schools. When confused, vote no — that’s the usual rule of thumb.
Stevens: Our own polling shows 59 percent of Utah voters are in favor of Proposition 3, though, which is up slightly from a similar poll in June.
Wood: Q1 did not connect with voters they way Our Schools Now hopes. Whatever goodwill the public has for education funding, it’s pretty clear the gas tax replacement scheme wasn’t what the state at large was looking for.
The best thing that could happen for Q1 supporters is if it passes by the narrowest of narrow margins, like 50.1 to 49.9
Stevens: HOT TAKE
Wood: HOT TAKE!
Gehrke: Yeah. The education advocates cut this deal with the Legislature and it ends up being a real problem because the concept they came up with was way too complicated. I tried to explain it but I have heard from a lot of people who A. Don’t get why gas money going to roads helps schools. B. Don’t trust the Legislature to keep its promise to get money to schools. C. Think schools are run by fat cat bureaucrats who get quarter-million-dollar salaries.
Wood: This is leading nicely into my burning question. It’s an open secret Speaker Hughes is looking at a run for governor in 2020. Does it hurt him at all that we had an unprecedented number of initiatives under his watch? And what if all or some pass?
Rodgers: He’s definitely trying to draw attention to his work brokering a compromise in the medical cannabis debate — maybe getting ahead of the criticism there.
Gehrke: Good point, Bethany. He’ll run as the guy who brokered the medical marijuana compromise and got Operation Rio Grande off the ground. I’m not sure the other two will hurt him, especially if they fail
Wood: That’s a weird horn to toot, though: “I brokered a last-minute compromise!... after failing to broker compromises in general sessions.”
Davidson: It doesn’t help. But people have short memories, so it doesn’t hurt much either. They will probably remember work on Rio Grande and the homeless more.
Gehrke: One other potential gubernatorial candidate who has got a little bump this election has been Spencer Cox. I suspect a lot of us have seen his get-out-the-vote ads.
Wood: Stellar ad work
Gehrke: It’s the kind of name-ID boosting he needs to be doing now to expand his base beyond his Twitter followers.
Wood: It also, shrewdly, never says his name
Stevens: I’ve got to say those campaign videos have the most “Utah” essence of anything I’ve seen since the Legislature rapped ‘Fresh Prints of Bills Here’.
Wood: I’m triggered.
Gehrke: I’m going to throw out one last Hot Take: Dems will flip two House seats and a Senate seat in the state Legislature. But Republicans might take another House seat back.
Wood: So Dems+1 in each chamber?
Gehrke: If I had to guess, I think the Dems hold onto theirs. So +2 House, +1 Senate.
Wood: Interesting. Still not enough to break the veto-proof (or special session-proof?) GOP majority
Gehrke: Suzanne Harrison’s running strong for a seat she lost by 5 votes two years ago. Former Rep. LuWanna Shurtliff potentially flipping Dixon Pitcher’s seat. Brian Zehdner who took over Brian Shiazowa’s Cottonwood Heights Senate seat is in a little trouble.
Wood: Zehnder in a little trouble from Utah Board of Education member Kathleen Riebe, for the #uted fans out there.
Gehrke: On the Dems side, Rep. Karen Kwan won a swing district and is fighting to hold onto that one. And longtime Rep. Sue Duckworth, who narrowly won two years ago, is in a battle with Barbara Stallone, who is campaigning hard.
(Pitcher, by the way, retired. So it's an open seat).
Does that qualify as BLUE WAVE?
Davidson: In Utah, yes
Wood: Only if McAdams also wins
Gehrke: One more Hot Take. Mitt Romney will win the U.S. Senate race.
Wood: HOT TAAAAAAAAAKE!
Wood: Well guys, we can’t get any hotter than that without melting. Keep your calendars free because if Amendment C passes we may need to caucus every single day.
Readers, do you have any hot takes for the 2018 election? Are there other emergencies in the affairs of state that require a special chat of the Trib Caucus? Let us know in the comments and remember to check sltrib.com and follow @TribCaucus on Twitter for updates.