EPHRAIM, Sanpete County — County Democratic leaders from throughout the state spent their weekend mapping strategy for 2004 — an election their gubernatorial candidate Scott Matheson Jr. called the "highest stakes race in a generation."
They gathered at Snow College Friday and Saturday for a so-called "leaders summit," which drew about 70 people. Donald Dunn, the newly elected party chairman, called the summit a first step in his effort to build a stronger party infrastructure by 2004. The party has held training events before, said Dunn, but the leader summit was perhaps the first time the party's core has gathered for an overnight event off the Wasatch Front.
Dunn said 20 of the 24 counties where the party is organized were represented.
The summit opened Friday evening with a dinner in the historic Snow College Noyes Building. The speakers were prospective candidates, including Matheson; his brother, Rep. Jim Matheson, who is seeking re-election to Congress in the 2nd District; former attorney general Paul Van Dam, who is challenging Sen. Bob Bennett; and attorney Greg Skordas, who plans to run for attorney general.
Scott Matheson Jr. told the county leaders that the 2004 election is the best chance Democrats have had to win the Utah governorship in 15 years. Referring to the packed Republican gubernatorial field, he said, "We've got Republicans falling all over themselves trying to figure out what to do. Let's take advantage of it."
Rep. Jim Matheson said the Democrats would never be able to outspend Republicans in Utah. "But we can outwork them," he said. "That's what I did in 2002."
"We have a great opportunity because we have a great ticket," he said. "In fact, I like the name Matheson so much I'm looking forward to seeing it twice on the ballot."
The party leaders reconvened Saturday for workshops on candidate recruitment, nuts-and-bolts organizing, contacting the media, fund-raising and budgeting.
One key to energizing Democrats, said Dunn, will be the Utah Democratic presidential preference primary Feb. 24. He said he hopes 20,000 to 30,000 voters will participate.