Let’s face it, 2016 was not a good year for Democrats in Utah. Hillary Clinton led the Democratic ticket in a state that went 79% for Bernie Sanders in the caucuses. Mike Weinholtz, who spent $3.1 million on his campaign for governor, only received 1.6%, or 23,489 votes, more that Misty Snow who only spent $72,385 for her entire campaign. With Weinholtz spending $129.94 per extra vote, that probably speaks louder about his campaign structure than it did the candidate himself, though something was flawed. For Congress, the Democrats dipped back into the same well again by selecting Doug Owens, thus showing a lack of candidates interested in taking the next step. Basically, it wasn’t great.
With that, there was one positive, and that was the reelection of Ben McAdams as Salt Lake County Mayor, winning 59.4% of the vote. This really wasn’t much of a surprise considering McAdams outperformed expectations in 2012, capturing 54.5% of the vote in his first run for County Mayor.
For Republicans, Donald Trump was expected to drag down the ticket. But in the end, it was only Trump who performed poorly in Utah. Other Republicans still performed at their previous levels. However, in Salt Lake County, Mia Love did perform better in 2016 than she did in 2014. Therefore, things were looking up for her.
The 2016 election gives us a possible look as to what we might expect in the upcoming McAdams vs. Love match up for the 4th Congressional District. And with a little bit of playing with the numbers, we might get an idea of who has the advantage in the 4th CD.
To figure out who might be the stronger candidate, I went ahead and simply compared the performance of McAdams and Love to the overall performance of candidates of their respective parties in the 2016 election. I used 2016 instead of 2012 because both have strong name identification in 2016, which will play a factor this time around.
If we look at the map below, we can see how Ben McAdams performed to the average Democratic candidate. As we can see, McAdams outperformed the Democratic average in every single precinct, which isn’t a surprise. But this map gives us an idea of where McAdams is strongest. Both Taylorsville and Millcreek show strong support for McAdams. However, the most interesting area for McAdams is in Riverton, where he nearly won some precincts that traditionally go strongly Republican. In fact, his performance in most of the southern part of Salt Lake County seems impressive, performing 20%+ compared to the Democratic average.
As for Mia Love, the story is quite different. In the map below, the green indicates where Love performed stronger than the Republican average, and red where she under-performed the average. And yes, there is a lot of red on that map! She does perform above the GOP average in Murray, and in sporadic precincts throughout the county. But overall, this does seem to show that some GOP voters (though only a few) voted for Owens, even if they voted GOP in all the other races.
So, looking at it from a bird’s eye view, this looks pretty good for McAdams. In some cases he is performing nearly 30% stronger than the average Democrat in the county. Heck, he is even pulling within striking distance of winning precincts in West Jordan, Riverton, and Herriman. Therefore, if we look at past election results, McAdams seems to be in the driver’s seat.
But before the McAdams campaign starts cracking open the grape juice (because, you know, alcohol), there are a few things that need to be noted. First, this is comparing a presidential year to a midterm election. While the performance usually stays the same in Utah regardless of election cycle (more to come on that soon), it still needs to be noted. But even with that being the case, there shouldn’t be much deviation. Second, McAdams might have performed strong against the Democratic average because the Democratic ticket was weak. This would inflate his numbers. Also, races that were not contested were taken out of the equation. This means that a lot of strong State House Democrats who did not have a Republican opponent were not included in the average. This could have bolstered the Democratic performance, but only slightly. With that, looking at the bright side for Democrats, these numbers could indicate how strong they might perform with the right candidate, especially in the southern part of the county. Therefore, while it isn’t a victory yet, it does show some promise.
While many might consider the real story of this research to be the strength of Ben McAdams, what I see as the real story is the lack of support for Mia Love. Yes, she is a Utah County candidate, but her under-performance numbers here should be concerning, especially for someone who is considered the an up-an-coming candidate within the national Republican Party establish (or former Republican Party establishment).
Another worry should be that Love performs poorly in some precinct where McAdams is strong. The shifts in these key precincts could determine who wins the election. The scatter plot below shows the relationship between shifts for McAdams and Love. While the model is not predictive whatsoever, it does show a slight trend that as McAdams performs stronger where Love’s percentages decrease.
So, who can win? Anyone, but McAdams does look to be in the driver’s seat. If McAdams pulls out a strong performance in Salt Lake County (with all indications showing that he might), that should be enough for a victory. However, I do stress the word strong. If McAdams doesn’t have a strong performance, then Love could make up the difference elsewhere. But still, looking at these numbers, McAdams has to be given a slight edge in this race.