The HubCap Spin | Rob Bishop or Donna McAleer: Who Wins Utah Congressional District 1?

The HubCap Spin | Rob Bishop or Donna McAleer: Who Wins the Race for Congressional District 1?
The HubCap Spin | Rob Bishop or Donna McAleer: Who Wins the Race for Congressional District 1?
Democrat Donna McAleer (left) and Republican Rob Bishop (right)

HubCap Spins: Where the Rubber Meets the Road is a collaborative effort of Utah Political Capital (UPC) and Utah Politico Hub (the Hub). One person from each site answers a question about upcoming races, elections, and issues.

The 2014 race in the First Congressional District is a rematch of 2012 between Rob Bishop and Donna McAleer

Today’s question: Who will win the race? Democrat Donna McAleer or Republican Rob Bishop?

Curtis Haring
Curtis Haring

CURTIS HARING (UPC): Ho-hum Republican Congressman Rob Bishop is poised for an overwhelming victory over Democrat Donna McAleer in November, having done what he has done best – keep his head down and throw out just enough red meat to keep Republican challengers off his back while spacing such events out far enough that his constituents don’t notice that Bishop isn’t actually doing much in Congress aside from being a rubber stamp for any piece of Republican legislation that comes across his desk.

And why should Bishop spend much time on this election, really? He has successfully upheld his one perpetual campaign promise to keep Hill Air Force Base open and McAleer has not been able to effectively portray that the West Point graduate could be stronger on military issues – the one area McAleer could legitimately beat Bishop in the conservative district.

This is puzzling, as this is the second match-up between Bishop and McAleer. One assumes that McAleer took military strategy while at the prestigious military academy; if so, one wonders why her campaign continues to use the same tactics and strategy as 2012, when McAleer lost by a staggering 46 points.

Yes, Utah Democrats may point to the Romney Tsunami and redistricting for those results, but Romney isn’t on the ticket and Bishop’s district didn’t change so dramatically between 2010 and 2012 (when redistricting took place) as to explain the probable 30 point loss McAleer will see in November of 2014.

The simple fact is McAleer has a unsecured left flank. Her Utah Democratic Party continues to deployed the failed tactic of “please vote for us, we are ever-so-much better than Republicans” campaign strategy, and McAleer appears to have been forced into this narrative against her will, and all she can do is state her name and rank.

Interesting, considering that McAleer is a smart and strong candidate if supported with the right message. Every swing vote McAleer receives will be in spite of the Democratic strategy, not because of it.

Bishop, who has kept his head down for this election cycle, will return to Congress without much effort.

Jason Williams
Jason Williams

JASON WILLIAMS (the Hub): Second time Democratic challenger Donna McAleer is going to lose the 2014 race against incumbent Republican Rob Bishop.  I expect you’ll hear a lot about gerrymandering uncompetitive districts from Democrats afterward, but there really is a lot more to understanding Utah’s first congressional district and Rep. Bishop’s success as a congressman whose campaign strategy has been to shout proudly from northern Utah’s rooftops a passionate, heartfelt “Meh.”

Sitting comfortably on a copy of Nate Silver’s Signal and the Noise, let me offer some data from 2012.

– Cook Political Report ranked CD1 at R+25 partisan voter index (PVI)

– McAleer out fundraised Bishop in the final 3 months of the campaigns (primarily from wealthy Park City donors) while Bishop raised more over the full 2yr span (primarily from the energy industry).

– Rep. Bishop won re-election in 2012 by a 46%+ margin of victory.

– 2008, 2010, 2012 election results were more consistent than any other congressional district in Utah. Roughly a 60/20% R and D split each cycle.  Obama surge, Tea Party wave, and Romney love be damned, district one voters weren’t having any of it.

Swapping my Nate Silver book cushion for Saul Alinsky’s Rule for Radicals now, what is behind the belligerent consistency of district one voters?  What’s locking Democratic candidates in the 20%?  Simply, it’s just not a competitive district.  But that lack of competitiveness is far less about the congressional boundaries before, or after the 2010 redraw, and more an issue of party building.

In 2012, redistricting watchdog org FairVote broke down the partisan change of district one before and after the 2010 redraw.  Before, the partisan makeup was 31D/69R, with the new map, 27D/73R.  You can argue the original map made district one non-competitive, but you can’t argue the 2010 redistricting made it much worse for Democrats.

The real challenge for a district wide Democratic candidate in district one is threefold.  Voters are comfortable economically (unless you live in Box Elder County, as Rep. Bishop himself does), the state party has little to no real apparatus for party building or GOTV, and frankly, Rob Bishop does so little to make headlines he can ride the R to victory without spending, debating, townhalling, or even knowing that Facebook or Twitter presence is a thing.

Morgan Bowen (2008, 2010) was a perfect candidate for Democrats.  Seminary teacher, social conservative, economically independent, audit the fed truther, and an amazing public speaker who knew his business.  Donna McAleer is an intelligent, experienced business person and with military experience to boot.  She’s gotten some solid shots in that voters, especially in Weber County are sympathetic too (like the utter dependence on HAFB, always and forever), as in Cache (Bishop’s too energy industry cozy approach to wilderness and lands… we like our canyons and rivers up heeyah!).

To break the 30% ceiling in district one (to win is too optimistic right now) Democrats need a machine.  One that will tap into the dominant unaffiliated voter base without alienating their own base.  One that will embrace a libertarian-like flare on guns and social issues — which will remain a difficult needle to thread — and that western state penchant for mistrust of government.  They need an apparatus that can fundraise and get out the vote, and candidates with ties to communities not in Park City, but Ogden, Logan, or Brigham City.  As much as it pains me personally to say, they need a northern Utah Jim Matheson, with all of the same warts.

Until then, whether you’re looking at data or demographics or incomes, Rob Bishop will remain “just good enough” for voters here until he himself gets more bored with the job than he always has been.

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