Races of the Week:Swallow vs. Matheson

What do George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, Senators Styles Bridges (R.-N.H.) and John Stennis (D.-Miss.), Sargent Shriver, Victor Reuther, House Armed Services Committee Chairman L. Mendel Rivers (D.-S.C.), and former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R.-Tenn.) all have in common? The answer is that they all had children who ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. All were defeated in spite of mighty fund-raising prowess and even mightier name recognition. In Utah in 2000, Democrat Jim Matheson, son of the late, revered Gov. (1976-84) Scott Matheson, escaped their fate and had enough family ties and residual good will to win Utah’s 2nd District House seat. This was a particularly impressive feat because he won even as George W. Bush and Sen. Orrin Hatch were riding a statewide Republican tide to victory. Two years ago, Matheson (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 38%) almost went down. With redistricting raising the percentage of Republican voters in the district from 56 to 63, the Democratic lawmaker staved off defeat by about 1,400 votes. “I just didn’t have the financial backing to go on TV in the final two weeks of the race,” recalls State Rep. John Swallow, Matheson’s Republican opponent then and now. “And–this happens every 20 years. There was no race for President, senator or governor and our race for Congress was at the top of the ticket. The only other major race was one for a state senate seat on the East Side of Salt Lake City and that was won by the Democrats.” This time, the 41-year-old Swallow knows well that he needs what he lacked in his earlier contest. This year the Republican ticket in the state looks good, as Bush and Sen. Bob Bennett (R.-Utah) are as popular as ever. Also, Republican Jon Huntsman, Jr. is expected to win the governorship comfortably over, ironically, Jim’s brother Scott Matheson, Jr. In addition, the conservative GOP hopeful carefully pays attention to fund-raising so as not to run dry at the most critical time. But Swallow’s major focus is on issues, showing how different he would be from the incumbent. As he put it, “My opponent voted against a ban on partial- birth abortion until last year, when it was passed and the President signed it into law. He opposes ANWR drilling, which is an irresponsible position when we need increasingly to develop our own sources of energy. And he will vote for John Kerry for President and [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi [D.-Calif.] for speaker of the House. Think what that means.” Swallow also challenges his opponent on his votes for the “No Child Left Behind” education program and for the $550 billion-plus prescription drug bill, even though both of them were supported by his own ballot mate Bush. “I would have voted no on both,” Swallow says without hesitation, “I support local control of education and I’m a budget hawk. Both of those contained costly tax-funded programs that are contrary to my philosophy.” Given those stands–and the fact that they are both against Bush positions–Matheson backers sometime dismiss the GOP opponent as radical. “I’m not radical,” remonstrates Swallow, “Just responsible.” It’s hard to think of a more succinct reason for conservatives to rally to John Swallow and turn his almost-win of ’02 into victory in ’04.