Rep. Jim Matheson was one of 12 Democrats in 2010 to win districts carried two years earlier by John McCain in the presidential contest.
Although the 4th provides him the “best opportunity” to continue serving in Congress, he said, “I’ve got to work real hard to win this district.”
There are at least three legitimate GOP contenders. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love last week became the latest to formally enter the race, joining Sandstrom and state Rep. Carl Wimmer.
They’re all competing in the April 21 state party convention, where the top two vote-getters among the district’s delegates advance to a June primary unless one candidate receives 60 percent of the vote. The process begins March 15, when delegates are elected at 1,850 local caucuses statewide.
Wimmer already has the backing of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and conservative groups including the Club for Growth, Citizens United and the Family Research Council, leading some insiders to believe he’s the early frontrunner. Lee is hosting a fundraiser for Wimmer on Jan. 17 in Utah.
“The bottom line is I have the message and campaign structure and the ability to defeat Jim Matheson,” Wimmer said. “The delegates understand that to defeat Jim Matheson, it’s going to require a complete campaign structure, and part of that is fundraising.”
Wimmer said he raised more than $200,000 through the end of 2011, and he resigned his state House seat last week because of rules prohibiting state legislators from fundraising while the Legislature is in session.
Sandstrom, who will not resign his seat, is well-known for the illegal-immigration enforcement bill he sponsored that was signed into law last year. Sandstrom had loaned his campaign $62,000 through September and said the fundraising prohibition will not hurt him in the race.
Wimmer and Sandstrom said they are focusing their message on defeating Matheson but that they’re also looking to build a coalition for the convention.
“Right now we’re having events and things like that, but we’re targeting people that we want to be delegates,” Sandstrom said. “So, certainly, you try to get your supporters to become delegates. And you have to have a ground game for that.”
If elected, Love would be Utah’s first African-American Member of Congress and the first African-American Republican woman in Congress. Love has the backing of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“My job is to just get to the delegates and speak to the delegates, and we’re doing that,” Love said. “That’s the game, that’s the plan. Get to as many delegates as possible and let them know who I am.”