By Wendy Aylworth, [email protected].
Would you like to be our new Congressman or Congresswoman? According to the political action group Independence Caucus (aka icaucus) you can be, even if you have no political track record. Can you defeat a six-term incumbent, even if he outspends you 6 to 1? According to icaucus you can — all you need is 1,000 grassroots volunteers in your Congressional District. You don’t need lots of money, you only need the icaucus methods.
The Independence Caucus began as a group of volunteers in Utah who helped in the election of Jason Chaffetz. Despite being outspent by more than a 6 to 1 margin, through the efforts of some of the early iCaucus members, Chaffetz, with no real political track record, defeated a 6-term, incumbent who was endorsed by the local Republican machine (the dominant party in Utah), the two sitting senators, and President Bush.
Believing the above, everyday citizens nationwide, with no political experience, have launched campaigns to become members of Congress.
Here in the 4th Congressional District of Kansas the members of icaucus seem convinced they can elect to Congress a man with no political or campaign experience. They believe Jason Chaffetz, a common, ordinary citizen with no political experience, has already defeated a 6 term incumbent Congressman and the “Republican machine” in another state, and they can therefore duplicate this success in Kansas.
But is the above story of Jason Chaffetz’ success accurate?
(1) Was Jason Chaffetz a common, ordinary citizen “with no real political track record?”
(2) Did Jason Chaffetz defeat a 6 term incumbent in the general election?
(3) Was a man with no political experience really able to defeat a powerful Democrat?
(4) Did Jason Chaffetz defeat the local “Republican machine?”
(5) Can the events of the 3rd Congressional District of Utah, where Chaffetz was elected, be duplicated here in Kansas’ 4th Congressional District?
Background and Experience of Jason Chaffetz
Raised in a wealthy, politically connected family, his father’s first wife was Kitty Dukakis, who next married Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democrat nominee for U.S. President. His half brother is former actor, John Kerry aide, and Democrat National Political Director John Dukakis.
Prior to running for Congress, Chaffetz had “a resume bursting at the seams with political experience.”
Chaffetz had already been a campaign worker on local campaigns, and, twenty-two years ago, while playing football at BYU, was Utah co-chairman for Michael Dukakis’s 1988 campaign for U.S. President.
Following his graduation from BYU, Jason Chaffetz took a corporate job with one of the largest employers in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, where, in 1990, he assisted then former President Ronald Reagan in a meeting tour with top Utah dignitaries. Through participating in these high-level private meetings he became personally acquainted with the key influential people in the state. His skills and charismatic personality soon raised him to the position of Managing Director of Marketing in the Corporation.
Eager to get back into Politics, Chaffetz was selected Campaign Manager of Jon Huntsman for Governor of Utah election campaign, serving two years before becoming the Governor’s Chief of Staff. In these positions Chaffetz nurtured his ties with the state’s most important insiders, and began contemplating a run for Congress. When Chaffetz left his position with the Governor’s office it was speculated that he might challenge the lone Democrat Congressman from Utah in whose district he lived.
Chaffetz returned to the private sector and Nu Skin Corporation, having decided against challenging Democrat Congressman Matheson of Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. Chaffetz took the politically expedient path, knowing that he was not yet ready to take on an incumbent Democrat, even in the most Republican and most conservative state of the Union. Instead Chaffetz looked for a district where his chances would be stronger. He chose the 3rd Congressional District of Utah, where he did not live, as the location where he would make his run for Congress. Located in this district were BYU and the Nu Skin Corporation, and, best of all, no strong Democrat — only an unpopular Republican Congressman.
In the 3rd District Chaffetz had the opportunity to defeat the incumbent Republican by working behind the scenes within the Republican Party structure. He could gather the votes of the Party decision makers long before any public election, and even end the career of the incumbent Republican Congressman without ever going to a public election.
Yes, Chaffetz defeated a 6 term incumbent — but that incumbent was not a Democrat.
How did Chaffetz defeat him?
Three years in advance he knew both his district and his opponent and devised a long-term strategy. Appointed by the Governor to a Trustee position with the largest public college in the district, he also served as President of BYU’s Cougar Club giving him name recognition and a resume with nearly every college graduate in this BYU-dominated area. He developed personal relationships with Republican Party Committeemen and women, and with the Republican Delegates whose votes he would need. His supporters lobbied party delegates for months prior to the vote. On Jan 1, 2007 Chaffetz made his announcement and quickly received campaign contributions both from in-state and out-of-state sources, PACs and the Huntsman Corporation of the Governor’s family.
Political parties in Utah use a unique method for selecting which candidate will receive party backing. In a Congressional election the nominee is not chosen via a public primary, as in Kansas. Instead, each party holds a State Convention and party delegates choose the nominee. A primary election occurs only if neither of the two final candidates receives at least 60% of the vote. Chaffetz’ two years of behind-the-scenes work, his charisma, unique background, and terrific speaking ability all paid off at the convention where he succeeded in knocking out all challengers and very nearly defeating the incumbent. On the last ballot Chaffetz fell 9 votes short of the 60% total he needed to oust the incumbent, receiving 59.5%.
Chaffetz had spent only $150 per delegate, one-sixth that of incumbent Chris Cannon, and nearly defeated him without a primary.
A key advantage Chaffetz had in this particular district is the candidate winning the Republican primary is widely considered the winner of the general election. This characteristic of the 3rd District is one reason Chaffetz selected it — fewer than 25% of the population are registered Democrats. The lack of Democrats and the very Conservative electorate means Republicans do not need to concern themselves with choosing a nominee capable of attracting moderate or Democrat voters to defeat the Democrat. They merely choose the Republican most appealing to themselves.
This key factor, Chaffetz knew, would make it possible for him, a man who had not before run for public office, to obtain the nomination. The key problem of needing to face Democrat opposition was virtually non-existent here in this ONE district out of all of the districts in the nation. In fact in Utah County, the seat of the district, only 1% of the voters were registered Democrats.
With his army of volunteers, and top-notch campaign staff, the lobbying now turned to run a public campaign.
Chaffetz gained local and state endorsements important to the voters in this district, and his friend Republican Governor Jon Huntsman stated he would wait until after the primary to endorse a candidate, leaving the incumbent hanging.
With steady, focused work the Chaffetz campaign was free to use any and all of the inadequacies of incumbent Cannon and his voting record against him, without fear of the material creating a Democrat win in the general election (should Cannon win the primary) as there were simply not enough Democrats in the entire district to defeat even a weakened Republican candidate.
Chaffetz prevailed in the primary and was hailed nationwide as the new Congressman of the 3rd Congressional District of Utah having spent half what the incumbent did. In a few months Chaffetz would easily defeat the Democrat 66 to 28 percent having spent ten times more money.
Can the lessons of how to run a grassroots Congressional campaign be applied to other Congressional Districts in the U.S.? Certainly; provided they possess the demographics and political structure of Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
Footnotes are on the following page.
 http://icaucus.us/ and http://icaucus.us/2009/01/big-stick-tea-party/
 http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=65416502006 and videos from http://ourcaucus.com/
 http://www.rollcall.com/issues/54_137/news/35334-1.html?type=printer_friendly AND http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0241143/bio
 http://voice-of-deseret.blogspot.com/2007/09/utahs-rino-3rd-district-congressman.html, http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_661bd2ba-a341-5940-aa5c-f3d765ac6155.html, http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_522f9b9a-1a74-54bb-8d62-4c88aa928944.html, http://www.votesmart.org/bio.php?can_id=103482
 Sanchez, Jennifer, “Ex-Huntsman staffer may battle Cannon,” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 2, 2007
www.sltrib.com/ci_4934937?source=rss and http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docID=district-UT-03
 Pyrah, Joe, “Jason Chaffetz: Newcomer not new to politics,” Daily Herald, June 14, 2008 http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_661bd2ba-a341-5940-aa5c-f3d765ac6155.html, http://www.fec.gov/DisclosureSearch/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Chaffetz [including on Jan 16, 2007 $1,000 from the Huntsman Corp http://www.fec.gov/DisclosureSearch/HSRefreshContributorList.do?cand_id=H8UT03089&contCategory=INDIVIDUAL&showType=all ]
 http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_661bd2ba-a341-5940-aa5c-f3d765ac6155.html, http://dailypaul.com/node/48700
 Chaffetz statement on KSL TV Channel 5, May 13, 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_6rQ0c04VY&feature=related
 http://www.whorunsgov.com/Profiles/Jason_Chaffetz and Walch, Tad, “Chaffetz wins big: Landslide: He turns Cannon into a lame duck,” Deseret Morning News, June 25, 2008
 http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-09-22-50states-utah_N.htm and http://boydpetersen.wordpress.com/2009/04/04/the-morality-of-politics-the-challenges-of-mormon-tribalism/#more-45 and http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_10828703-9ab9-50c0-a486-a9cd94609b02.html and http://www.bestplaces.net/County/Utah-Utah.aspx#