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Matheson Brand Trumped Top of the Ticket in Utah

Kim Raff/The Salt Lake Tribune/Associated Press
By casting himself as an independent thinker, Matheson, a Blue Dog Democrat, was able to overcome a challenge from Love, a rising GOP star, despite running for re-election in both a state and a district that heavily favored Republicans.

One challenge for the campaign was to highlight that brand amid a torrent of outside noise, including a plethora of negative ads against both candidates.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Majority PAC and other Democratic-aligned outside groups spent about $2.3 million against Love, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That is slightly more than what the National Republican Congressional Committee and GOP groups spent against Matheson.

Struble said Love and the NRCC hit the airwaves before Matheson and the DCCC. After Love’s much-hyped appearance at the Republican National Convention in August, Matheson’s lead disappeared.

“We had to scream at the DCCC to start spending money for us,” noted Struble, who said DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York and committee strategists believed Matheson was doing so well he didn’t need them. “But ultimately the committee and Israel came through in spades.”

With so many independents and Republicans expected to support Romney and Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the other challenge was to give those voters reason and encouragement to also back Matheson over a viable Republican opponent.

So one of the incumbent’s last two ads featured a string of Republicans from the business and banking world, mayors and former state legislators stating that they were voting for Matheson. One said he was voting for Romney and Matheson.

“In many ways, what we were doing was giving Republicans permission to split the ticket,” Struble said. “There were other people like them.”

Matheson’s earlier ads aimed to establish his independent credentials. His contrast ads used clips of Love voicing support for cutting the Department of Education and privatizing Social Security.

Matheson said that along with highlighting his independent approach to governing, it was vital to illustrate for voters the clear differences between the two candidates. That was the message used in TV ads, mail and the field program, as Matheson focused on staying visible in the Salt Lake County district by visiting businesses, participating in parades and harvest days, and attending cottage meetings in people’s homes.

“Ultimately, in every election people are making a choice between two candidates,” Matheson said. “I think there was an effort, as there always is, by my opposition to make this more a national party race and not about issues, and I actually tried to make it about issues.”

Matheson said Love and the NRCC “ran a really good campaign against me.” The NRCC’s ad strategy included TV spots that featured headshots of Matheson next to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and President Barack Obama. One ad had side-by-side clips of Matheson and Obama using almost identical rhetoric.

Jim Matheson is a nice enough guy, but he’s let us down, and there is too much at stake for America,” an announcer in one of the ads said.

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