The last votes have been counted and Mia Love has officially lost her race to Salt Lake County mayor (yes, county; yes, mayor) Ben McAdams by 694 votes.
I’m by no means an authority on Utah politics but one can make several observations on this race.
UT-4 is the only competitive congressional district in Utah. The other three GOP representatives skated to reelection.
Mia Love has never been a strong candidate. I say that not as a critique of her performance on the trail but of her electoral record. In 2012 she lost to Jim Matheson in a very close race; in 2014, she beat challenger Doug Owens with 50.9% of the vote. In the 2016 rematch with Owens, Love pulled in 54% of the vote. Her close races, at least by Utah congressional race standards, is driven by the fact that UT-4 contains Salt Lake City.
This time around, Love faced a perfect storm of bad things. She’d alienated some of the GOP base by her calculated distancing of herself from Trump–an understandable strategy in a district that includes a large number of Democrats. Turnout was extraordinary, on November 6, Love received more votes than were cast in the 2014 election. Turnout, we can surmise, was driven by Trump being on the ballot by proxy but also by a couple of ballot initiatives that energized Democrats.
Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said the McAdams-Love race “came down to those provisional ballots, the people who showed up on Election Day, registered to vote, and then cast votes largely for Prop 2 [for medicinal marijuana] and Ben McAdams. That is where he gained a lot of ground.”
In part because of the close McAdams-Love race, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said that in her county, “It was an unprecedented turnout: 81.93 percent turnout for a midterm election.” In comparison, the turnout for the 2010 and 2014 midterms was just 52 percent.
What is missing from that is that Medicaid Expansion was on the ballot (it won 53-47, virtually identical to, but slightly lower than, the Medical Marijuana initiative) and there was a measure that put redistricting in the hands of a “non partisan” commission. The vote on that initiative was nearly an exact proxy for the McAdams-Love contest; the redistricting initiative passed 50.3%-49.7% and McAdams won 50.1% to 49.9%.
Unlike some of the seats we lost this year, this one is imminently winnable in the next election. I don’t know what Love’s future plans are. She’s lost this race once before and she might be competitive again in a different electoral environment…but I don’t think 2020 will be any less crazy than was 2018.
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