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Mountain Region Roundup

Hatch Viewed as Top Tea Party Scalp, but He’s Well-Prepared




Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 9
2008 Presidential Vote:
Obama 54%/McCain 45%


3rd district |
Incumbent: Scott Tipton (R)

1st term (50 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Former Rep. John Salazar is the new cautionary tale for Colorado Democrats. There is a widespread sense among operatives that he simply was not prepared for the Republican wave that swept him away in 2010.

Given that, and Tipton’s weak fundraising, Democrats say this is their best shot picking up a seat in Colorado. Republicans maintain they are prepared to defend this seat.

State House Minority Leader Sal Pace is a former political operative and once worked for Salazar. He has surpassed Tipton in fundraising in the fourth quarter but still lags behind in cash on hand.

This should be a top race to watch all the way through the fall.

6th district | Incumbent: Mike Coffman (R)

2nd term (66 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Coffman was the biggest loser in Colorado redistricting. His once-safe Republican district was revamped and now demographically belongs in the Tossup column.

But Democratic recruitment here remains unsteady. State Rep. Joe Miklosi staked his claim on the district long before the maps produced favorable Democratic conditions. As such, several prominent Democrats have shied away from running after the new map was finalized.

Miklosi has an enthusiasm problem. His fundraising lags far behind Coffman’s, and local party strategists seem to like him but speak of him in deflated tones.

For now, this race Leans Republican because of the lack of top-tier Democratic recruits. But even if Coffman wins re-election this year, he will likely face trouble in the future when Democrats have more time to prepare.

7th district | Incumbent: Ed Perlmutter (D)

3rd term (53 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic

The only reason this race is on the radar is because of the last name of Perlmutter’s Republican challenger: Coors.

Candidate Joe Coors puts this seat in play only in the sense that he has the capacity to self-fund. Theoretically, this is a marginal district, but Perlmutter remains popular and should coast to re-election. National Republicans are not exactly bullish on Coors, but they want Democrats to spend money here.


Gov. Butch Otter (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 62%/Obama 36%


1st district | Incumbent: Raul Labrador (R)

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

The only Democrat to win a House seat in Idaho in nearly 20 years was Walt Minnick, a former assistant in the Nixon administration and Republican until 1996.

Labrador’s 10-point victory last cycle over the freshman Minnick should not have been surprising. This is one of the most conservative districts in the country, and even the independent Minnick stood no chance of withstanding a tide that netted Republicans 63 seats last cycle.

Labrador’s Democratic challenger, retired NFL wide receiver Jimmy Farris, had less than $10,000 in the bank at the end of December.


Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 50%/Obama 47%


Incumbent: Jon Tester (D)

1st term (49 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Along with Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota, this is one of the top four pickup opportunities for Republicans and could help decide control of the Senate.

That reality makes this race a prime candidate for heavy outside spending by the campaign committees and third-party groups whose presence has already been felt on statewide airwaves.

Tester is being challenged by the top Republican in the state, Rep. Denny Rehberg, and Tester’s ability to separate himself from President Barack Obama and national Democrats will likely determine the outcome. That’s easier said than done when the GOP hammers home how often Tester voted in support of the president.

Still, Tester has so far run a smart campaign and turned in strong fundraising quarters. Tester has continued to hold a significant fundraising lead over Rehberg, who launched his campaign in February 2011.

In a race between two Members of Congress, both campaigns have focused on the other’s legislative actions, including bill sponsorship and votes on issues from border security to swipe fees to who should receive credit for giving the state control of its wolf population management.

A local-issue battle is one the Tester campaign would welcome in a state that’s given a Democratic presidential nominee its electoral votes just twice since 1948 — and with Obama’s nationwide approval rating hovering in the mid-40s. Plus, as Montana’s at-large Member, Rehberg has already proved to be a statewide winner with high name recognition.

This race has the potential to get nasty. With relatively cheap media markets, no competition at the presidential level and polling expected to be close throughout, the outside money will no doubt continue to flow.


At-large | Open seat: Denny Rehberg (R) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Likely Republican

Businessman Steve Daines is favored to hold this statewide seat for Republicans.

With Rehberg running for Senate, Democrats see a sliver of sunlight here and have several candidates in the mix: state Rep. Franke Wilmer, state Senate Minority Whip Kim Gillan, technology executive Diane Smith, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier and lawyer Rob Stutz.

But Daines, the 2008 lieutenant governor nominee, has more than six times as much money as his closest Democratic opponent in a state President Barack Obama is not targeting. Daines initially ran for Senate — he announced his campaign shortly after the 2010 elections, then switched to the House race a couple of months later when Rehberg announced his Senate campaign.


Gov. Gary Herbert (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 63%/Obama 34%


Incumbent: Orrin Hatch (R)

6th term (62 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Hatch needs to make it out of the state Republican convention in April to ensure he wins a seventh term in one of the most conservative states in the country. The likelihood of that happening depends on whom you talk to, but the Hatch campaign has prepared for his toughest race yet.

He entered the cycle among the most vulnerable incumbents after a 2010 GOP convention loss by then-Sen. Bob Bennett and with a voting record that’s motivated conservative groups to step up efforts to oust him.

But since the start of 2011, Hatch has made a point of spotlighting his record while raising money at a record pace and doing the groundwork necessary to compete at the convention.

His top potential opponent was Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), who, after months of hinting he would challenge Hatch, announced in August that he was instead running for re-election. Then in late October, Rep. Jim Matheson, the only Democrat with any chance of winning statewide, announced that he also would seek re-election.

Conservative outside groups were disheartened by Chaffetz’s decision but continued to search for a candidate. The top two challengers to step forward were former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist and state Rep. Chris Herrod.

The state’s nominating process is in Hatch’s opponents’ favor, as 4,000 locally elected delegates — generally more conservative than the statewide GOP electorate — decide the nominee.

The Hatch campaign has been active for well more than a year recruiting candidates to run and supporters to attend last week’s precinct caucuses, where state delegates were selected, and help oust those likely to oppose the incumbent at the April 21 convention. Mitt Romney, a popular figure in the state, cut a TV ad for Hatch just ahead of the March 15 delegate elections.

The nomination can be won with 60 percent of the convention vote. Otherwise, the top two finishers face off in a primary. Either way, a Republican will represent the state in 2013.


2nd district | New seat

Outlook: Safe Republican

A laundry list of Republicans are vying for this district, the only one without an incumbent after Utah picked up a district in reapportionment.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D) actually lives here but opted to run in the neighboring 4th, which gives him a stronger opportunity to return to Congress.

Among the Republicans running are retired professional football player Jason Buck, former state Speaker David Clark, retired trucking executive Howard Wallack and author Chris Stewart, all of whom were added to the first step of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program. Other candidates running include conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar and logistics consultant Chuck Williams.

The district, which includes most of Salt Lake City and the state’s western border, would have voted 58 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 and 66 percent for President George W. Bush in 2004.

4th district | Incumbent: Jim Matheson (D)

6th term (51 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

There might be no federal candidates in the country with a more vested interest in Mitt Romney being the GOP presidential nominee than Republicans running in this district, where Matheson is seeking a seventh term.

They include state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, former state Rep. Carl Wimmer and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who is the daughter of Haitian immigrants and the first female mayor in Utah. The eventual nominee will likely receive a turnout boost from Romney, who is still beloved for helping save the 2002 Winter Olympics.

None of the four districts drawn by the GOP-controlled Legislature was advantageous for a Democrat, but the Salt Lake County-based 4th gives Matheson his best shot at returning to Congress. It includes only about a quarter of Matheson’s current district, but Democrats remain confident thanks to his moderate voting record and history of winning in tough districts.

The 4th follows Interstate 15 south from Salt Lake City and includes parts of Salt Lake and Utah counties. It would have voted 56 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 and 66 percent for President George W. Bush in 2004.

Outside groups are likely to be involved, and national Republicans have already aired at least two TV ads against Matheson. Given the district’s metrics and Matheson’s history of winning tough districts, this is expected to be among the most competitive races in the country.


Gov. Matt Mead (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 65%/Obama 33%


Incumbent: John Barrasso (R)

1st term (73 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Barrasso, who was appointed in June 2007 and then elected in November 2008 to fill the remaining four years of the late Sen. Craig Thomas’ term, should be easily re-elected.


At-large | Incumbent: Cynthia Lummis (R)

2nd term (70 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Lummis’ first race in 2008 was somewhat competitive, and she won with just 53 percent of the vote, a lackluster total given the state’s staunchly conservative bend.

But last cycle, Lummis cruised to re-election by a much more comfortable margin. She is a safe bet to win a third term next year regardless of whom Democrats nominate as their sacrificial lamb.

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