February 2nd, 2010 was doubleheader day in the Beehive State. Two Republicans announced their intent to challenge Utah's Second District Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.
First, the more prominent challenger. Morgan Philpot (pictured at left) had longed hinted at taking the plunge, and today he did so, jumping into the race. In his announcement at the State Capitol, Philpot said that Utah can't afford the status quo in Washington, which is what Matheson represents. Philpot tied Matheson, a five-term Democrat, to Nancy Pelosi and castigated him for his votes for the economic stimulus package and the Cash-For-Clunkers car exchange program. He also said the Obama administration and Democratic Congress, rather than pushing the brakes on spending, seem insistent on driving the nation over a cliff. Philpot expects to be able to tap into feelings of voter antipathy toward Washington.
But two years ago, Bill Dew mounted a well-funded Republican challenge to Matheson, and got soundly thrashed. So what's different this time? Philpot had an answer, claiming that there has been a shift in public sentiment since voters last elected Matheson. "People feel differently today," Philpot said. "Matheson's win was a result of things we didn't see before. Our leaders lack the fiscal restraint to save the country." To see what else might be different, visit Philpot's campaign website at the following link:
Philpot entered the 2nd District congressional race briefly in 2000, but dropped out and was later appointed to fill a vacant Utah House seat. He was subsequently elected to two terms, then left the House in 2004 to attend Ave Maria School of Law. In 2009, he was elected by Republican delegates to the post of vice chairman of the state party, a position he resigned last month in preparation for his campaign. He is the general counsel for Reagan Outdoor Advertising, a billboard company. He's married with five kids.
And now, the less prominent challenger. Neil Walter (pictured at left), a native of St. George who is a managing director of a local brokerage firm and an instructor at Dixie State College, announced he would challenge Philpot for the Republican nomination in the race for Utah’s second Congressional district. The St. George Spectrum offered no other details, but his official campaign website is up, and he says he has the strong financial background and entrepreneurial experience necessary to help lead us out of the recession. He maintains we need to put our country on a solid financial footing and move toward an innovative and dynamic economy that competes aggressively in world markets. Walter says we have all had to reevaluate our needs and adjust our priorities because of the recent recession. It is time to put this country's house in order as well. He's married with four kids.
One other candidate recently entered this race. Progressive Democrats disgruntled with Matheson's moderate voting record have enlisted University of Utah professor John Weis to challenge Matheson for his party's nomination. He was selected on January 30th at a "Citizens' Candidate Initiative" from a field of other candidates in front of an audience of 100 people at the Salt Lake Library. Sort of a "grass roots" primary. In addition, Casey Owen Anderson (R) is an undeclared Republican candidate, while Dave Glissmeyer (I) and Ryan Kelly (I) are declared independent candidates.
Reaction: Jim Matheson's spokeswoman, Alyson Heyrend, said the congressman looks forward to a spirited race. "Congressman Matheson is very proud of his public record and his service and he looks forward to running an aggressive, winning campaign," said Heyrend. "He always looks forward to being able to put his ideas before the Utah electorate and debate the issues."
Prognosis: Morgan Philpot appears to be in the catbird seat. He has more of a political history than Neil Walter. Philpot could win the 60 percent or more of the delegates necessary at the state convention to avoid a primary fight. Besides, Utah County seems to be driving the state Republican Party at this time. But whether Philpot could defeat Matheson remains to be seen. Twenty points is a large deficit to make up in just two years.