GOP Primary Will Decide Matheson Foe

Posted June 16, 2004 at 6:40pm

As Utah Republicans Tim Bridgewater and John Swallow enter the last days before Tuesday’s primary, their race for the 2nd district GOP nomination looks a lot like it did in 2002.

They are close in the polls and spending the bulk of their war chests against each other, allowing Rep. Jim Matheson (D) to sit on his bulging kitty while awaiting the results of the slugfest.

In the most recent campaign finance reports, Swallow, a former state lawmaker, had spent almost $524,000 while Bridgewater, a venture capitalist, had shelled out about $209,000.

Matheson has spent about $278,000 this cycle but he still has almost $795,000 in the bank, compared to Swallow’s $220,000 and Bridgewater’s roughly $152,000.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) recently lamented that Utah’s unique system has complicated fundraising for Republicans in their efforts to knock off Matheson, a perennial GOP target.

Utah has both party conventions and primaries.

“If I had a want and wish list, I would say to Utah, ‘Why don’t you either have a convention or a primary — not both — to speed up selecting nominees?” Reynolds said.

Experts have said the late selection process delayed the influx of critical money to 2002 GOP nominee Swallow and some Republicans believe that gave Matheson the edge.

Matheson won that election by about 1,900 votes.

Bo Harmon, spokesman for the NRCC, admitted that Bridgewater and Swallow have been locked in a “tough primary” but said Republicans should still be able to rally and win.

“It’s a heavily Republican district,” he said. “Whoever ends up with the nomination will have our full support.”

The district is 68 percent Republican and overwhelmingly supported President Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

Nonetheless, Matheson is in strong shape to win a third term, according to Kori Bernards, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A recent poll that found Matheson had a higher approval rating among Republicans than either GOP Reps. Rob Bishop or Chris Cannon.

“This is great news,” Bernards said.

According to the poll conducted for the Exoro Group, a Salt Lake City-based political consulting firm, by Salt Lake City-based Dan Jones & Associates, which has polled for Bridgewater in the past, 68 percent of Republican voters approved of the job Matheson was doing.

Bishop and Cannon both had 60 percent approval ratings.

“Matheson has done what he needs to win his district,” Bernards said. “Obviously he has a race before him but he has been tried and tested and we’re confident that he’ll win again.”

Harmon said Republicans will work hard to heal the rift in the Utah GOP that still exists after the 2002 election to make sure a Republican wins.

“His interests are split between what the people of Utah want and what his very liberal leadership wants,” Harmon said of Matheson. “The 2nd district would be better served by a Republican.”

The two Republicans again find themselves in a contentious primary because neither one could get 60 percent of GOP delegates behind him at last month’s convention.

Again this year Bridgewater edged out Swallow at the convention.

In 2002, Bridgewater bested Swallow and 11 other candidates at the convention only to then lose to 52-48 percent in the primary.

The latest survey, the one done on behalf of the Exoro Group, found Swallow leading Bridgewater 39 to 23 percent with 38 percent of respondents undecided.