Claudia Wright, an upstart candidate selected by a rogue citizens' committee left her mark on the Democratic Party.---
Wright may have been trounced at the polls by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Tuesday, but that doesn't mean her campaign was worthless. She did force Matheson into a primary for the first time ever in his political life, a feat in and of itself. And she forced the Democratic establishment to deal with issues—including gay rights, PAC donations, environmental policy and health-care reform—that many insiders consider "third-rail" issues that are best left untouched.
Thursday, Wright's campaign manager, Mike Picardi, said that he thinks that the grassroots energy built by Wright's campaign will translate to greater activism within the Utah Democratic Party. Instead of simply bailing on the party because of the disappointing result for the candidate they supported, Picardi said many of the volunteers and small-time supporters will stay within the party fold.
"The group that started this will, I think, remain active in the party," he said. "They will work for change from the inside."
Wright's campaign had significant support from the youthful wing of the party, which is a great base for a grassroots campaign (although, generally, not a great strategy for actually winning). They are tireless volunteers who will often work for nothing more than pizza and beer, and they are usually passionate about their candidate. But Picardi said that there were plenty of long-time Democrats who supported Wright, precisely because they don't agree with Matheson's Blue Dog/Republican light philosophy.
"I think the Democratic Party has a progressives, and one of the things that brought he to the forefront was that they felt they weren't being represented," Picardi said.
For his part, Matheson told The Salt Lake Tribune that he felt the primary was beneficial. They were able to get their message out earlier and also build a volunteer base of their own.
"I think it puts us in a better position," he said.
His Republican opponent, Morgan Philpot, dismissed the primary as helpful, saying it forced Matheson to address issues he would rather avoid.
Finally, as for Wright running as a Democratic challenger instead of as a third-party candidate, Picardi said that it would have been a lot harder with the limited amount of money. After all, as one of only two candidates in the primary, the media and voters had to give her due respect. She also was given lengthy profiles in multiple newspapers, something a third-party candidate almost never gets from the media.