John Swallow wants a second chance. And he thinks he's earned it.
Next week, Swallow, 41, an attorney and now president of a small business, is asking GOP voters in the 2nd Congressional District to let him again go after Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.
Just two years ago, it was a Swallow and Matheson final election. And Swallow came up short — oh, just so very short.
In a heavily Republican area, Matheson carried the Salt Lake County portion of the then-newly expanded, 16-county 2nd District to win a second term by less than 1 percent of the vote.
It was Swallow's first political loss. "I had won three races for the Utah House. I'd won the (2002) primary," he said. But without the funds that the incumbent Matheson had raised "and without the name ID" that Matheson enjoyed, Swallow fell short.
It was a tough loss. Especially since some of the GOP supporters of Tim Bridgewater — the man Swallow beat in the June 2002 Republican primary — kept saying "we told you so."
On June 22, it is again a Swallow/Bridgewater GOP primary rematch.
What's changed from two years ago?
"I've learned a lot," says Swallow. "And I've worked harder and smarter."
A few examples:Swallow says this time around he has "the basic team" that former Rep. Enid Greene and current Rep. Chris Cannon used to defeat, respectively, then-Democratic incumbent Reps. Karen Shepherd and Bill Orton.
"Like a freshman quarterback who throws interceptions," Swallow said he made his mistakes in 2002 and has learned from them.
Swallow has more money this time, has worked the large geographic district harder and longer, will spend more time and money in Salt Lake County (where Matheson beat him 60-40 two years ago).
"I start the race this time 8 percentage points closer in the polls (to Matheson), while my primary opponent is further behind than I was in 2002."
Swallow, who spent part of his youth in St. George and his teenage years on a farm outside of Ely, Nev., says he never really stopped running after his narrow defeat in November 2002.
"I started working as president of a start-up company I and a few fellows started in 2002 — On International," he said. The company is working on new manufacturing materials for the small, special lights, like the LED lights used in digital watches.
"I took six or eight months, where my wife and I looked at doing this (race) again."
By the spring of 2003, he was in for sure, raising money, traveling to Washington, D.C., where he convinced the leaders of the Club For Growth, a relatively new GOP/business group, to support him.
Just one measure that he's a better candidate this time around, says Swallow, is his cash. "We've raised more than $600,000 — as best as we can tell that's a record for a challenger to an incumbent before convention or primary," he says.
After graduating from an Ely high school, Swallow went to a local Nevada college for a term before leaving school to serve a Spanish-speaking mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Los Angeles.
He then went to Brigham Young University, where he graduated in psychology, and then went to the BYU law school. He worked in private law practice for several years and married. His wife and he now have five children.
In 1998 he took a job with a then-client, the Silver Sage nutritional supplement firm, as their in-house attorney. And he subsequently started On International in 2002.
He filed against an incumbent Sandy Republican Utah House member in 1996. She got out of the race before the convention, and Swallow went on to an easy victory that year. He was easily re-elected two times.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff got to know Swallow when Swallow was a freshman legislator from Sandy and Shurtleff was working as an assistant attorney general.
"He became a friend, not just someone you work with," says Shurtleff.
"He's smart. He listens. He learns. He's willing to change the bill if you have to. And he'll do what he says he'll do. When you find someone that keeps promises up here, you remember it," says Shurtleff. "He's extremely honest."
Seen as an up-and-comer in the Republican-controlled House, Swallow says he considered running against then-2nd District GOP Rep. Merrill Cook in 2000.
But Swallow was not a rich man, and two millionaire Republicans filed against Cook, who was beaten in the GOP primary.
When the Utah House pushed the 2nd District mostly out of Salt Lake County in 2001, Swallow saw his chance.
|Deseret Morning News graphic2nd Congressional District mapRequires Adobe Acrobat.|
So did a bunch of other guys. Twelve people, including Swallow and Bridgewater, filed for the office. And the pair came out of the 2002 convention with Bridgewater first, Swallow second.
Swallow finished second to Bridgewater again this year in the May 8 convention.
And Swallow hopes history repeats itself next week — with him winning the primary.
"I'm working harder to reconnect with the voters," said Swallow. "I'm trying to run a positive race this time. I look at the 2002 race" against Bridgewater, which got a bit nasty at times, "and liken it to a (LDS) church basketball game. Sometimes you throw some elbows" that maybe you don't really mean.
If he does lose, "I'm willing to fund-raise, whatever," for Bridgewater, he said.
After losing in November 2002, he became head of the Multiple Access Conservation Coalition, a volunteer group, that among other things, helped "convince federal officials to let watercraft back on Lake Powell," said Swallow.
"Utah has to have reasonable access to its public lands," he adds. A looming crisis in public education, with 145,000 new students entering the system over the next 10 years, means the state must be allowed to make money off public lands.
From public lands to education to national defense — you pick the issue, and Swallow says he's better prepared to take on Matheson now than he was two years ago.
Remember, says Swallow, before they were elected president, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln both lost big races.
Swallow says he just needs the chance — a second chance.