Alexander Ovechkin took over the NHL lead in goals with a late pair, the first tying a sloppy, high-scoring game, and the second giving Washington the 5-4 OT win in Carolina. “It’s almost like whenever he decides to end it,” said his linemate Devante Smith-Pelly,” he can just go do it.”
Our science staff is trying to lead a more scientific life in 2018. Throughout the week, we’ll be writing about our resolutions for the new year. Here’s the second entry, on Tom Brady’s fitness empire.
I am done with testimonials from professional athletes. I’ve spent the last year and a half reporting and writing a book about exercise recovery1, and what I’ve learned is that advice from elite athletes is often cluttered with pseudoscientific explanations for their stupendous results. The problem is that gifted athletes don’t necessarily know how they got that way. Or, in the words of David Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene,” “Just because you’re a bird doesn’t mean you’re an ornithologist.”
Take New England Patriots quarterback and five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, for instance. He’s still playing at 40, a geriatric age in the NFL. What keeps him performing at such a high level all these years? It could be that he’s blessed with a strong arm and a sturdy frame, or that the Patriots’s strong offensive line has (mostly) protected him from sacks and related injuries.
But Brady has his own theories. He attributes his athletic longevity to a list of 12 principles outlined in his best-selling 2017 book, “The TB12 Method.” (Twelve is an important number to Brady; it’s not only the number on his jersey, but also the brand on the many products he sells to his fans). The TB12 principles include generic advice like “feeling better — that’s the key” and “balance and moderation in all things.”
Moderation in all things, that is, except when it comes to water. “Sometimes I think I’m the most hydrated person in the world,” Brady writes after advising readers to drink at least one half of their body weight in ounces of water every day. “At 225 pounds, that means I should be drinking 112 ounces a day, minimum,” he says. If you don’t drink enough, he claims, you decrease the oxygen in your bloodstream, build up toxins in your cells and create an “unhealthy inner environment,” whatever that means. (Brady also contends that “the more hydrated I am, the less likely I am to get sunburned,” a claim disputed by scientists.)
Water alone isn’t enough though. Brady also relies on TB12 Electrolytes, “a natural mineral concentrate that enable athletes to turn any liquid into a hydrating sports drink enriched with 72 trace minerals extracted from sea water.” (Curiously, the product packaging lists only 17 ingredients.) Who doesn’t love guzzling sea-water extract?
Electrolytes, though, aren’t anything special. They’re simply salts and minerals. “They’re brilliant marketing,” exercise scientist Tamara Hew-Butler at Oakland University told me. Sodium and potassium are the major ones we need, and your body maintains stores of these vital molecules that it can tap into as needed to protect your body’s normal functioning. “You have a lot of redundancy in the feedback systems to protect their levels,” she said. Unless you’re exercising continuously in excess of 18 hours or more, you normally make up for any loss through the food you eat in your next meal. Despite all the hoopla about their presence in sports drinks and fancy bottled waters, there’s no need to take them in supplements or some special formula.2
Drinking excessive amounts of water when you’re not thirsty isn’t just dumb, it’s dangerous, because it can produce a potentially fatal condition called hyponatremia, or “water intoxication.” Despite the marketing campaigns of bottled water makers and sports drink manufacturers, there’s no good science to show that athletes or anyone else needs to drink beyond thirst, which is your body’s natural way of telling you to drink, just like hunger means you need to eat. But there’s plenty of good evidence that drinking too much can kill you. Hyponatremia happens when the blood becomes dangerously diluted, which can lead to symptoms that look a lot like dehydration — such as fatigue, headache, confusion and weakness. In the most serious cases, it can provoke brain swelling, coma and even death. I have been unable to find a single case of a football player collapsing and dying from dehydration on the field3, but at least two high school football players have died from hyponatremia. Yet Brady says that underhydration is a greater problem than overhydration.
But wait — there’s more! Brady also recommends a restricted diet that, among other things, avoids nightshades4 and favors “alkaline” foods, which he says, without presenting any evidence, reduce inflammation. (The diet is apparently outlined in greater detail in the TB12 Nutrition Manual, which sells for $200.)
Brady credits his athletic longevity to something called “muscle pliability,” a term invented by his “body coach,” Alex Guerrero, a man twice investigated by government regulators for misrepresenting himself as a doctor (he’s not) and falsely asserting that one supplement he was shilling had been clinically tested and proven to cure cancer, Parkinson’s, AIDS and other diseases and that another, which Brady once endorsed, could prevent concussions.
What’s muscle pliability? “Pliability is the name Alex and I give to the training regimen he and I do every day. Using his hands and elbows, Alex performs targeted, deep-force muscle work to lengthen and soften every muscle of my body, as I rhythmically contract and relax that muscle,” Brady writes in his book. It may sound like massage, but Brady insists it’s something different. (The best part of inventing your own word is that you can make it mean whatever you want it to.) “The goal of pliability is to reeducate your brain-body connection, which continually sends messages to your muscles to stay long, soft, and primed,” he writes, adding that you can think of it as the “new ‘warm-up’ and ‘cool-down.’”
The book illustrates a series of exercises and self-massages that Brady promises will make muscles less tight, dense, stiff and injury-prone. Do the muscle pliability exercises in his book do what they advertise? It’s hard to say, because the only evidence provided is Brady’s testimonials, and there’s no actual scientific research on this stuff. “I don’t know what they’re trying to say with that,” said Keith Baar, a physiologist who studies muscles and exercise at the University of California, Davis. University of Kentucky muscle physiologist Tim Butterfield told me that he’d never heard the term pliability used in muscle research. To test Brady’s claims yourself, you’ll have to buy some TB12 vibrating foam rollers or, better yet, hire a TB12-certified body coach. “I want to make it very clear that the best method of achieving optimal pliability is through a certified TB12 body coach,” Brady writes.
Maybe he really believes in this stuff, but after reading all 303 pages of Brady’s book, I can’t help noticing how much of his recommendations sound like advertising. For every bit of advice, there’s a product for sale. In addition to the electrolytes and rollers and stretchy bands, there’s a protein powder that he just happens to sell, and a brain training app that you can subscribe to for $14 a month (or $96 for a year).
Brady has faced criticism for his association with Guerrero, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick is reported to be distancing his team from the disgraced guru, but it’s easy to see what Brady sees in the guy. Brady might well be the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and Guerrero has taught him how to turn that on-field résumé into an off-field wellness empire.
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
In the final two months of 2017, the price of the cryptocurrency monero quadrupled in value to $349, and is up a further 7 percent this year. It grew faster than the top cryptocurrency, bitcoin, which is saying something. Criminals were once a core customer base for bitcoin, but as people have gotten better at tracing where the currency comes from and where it goes, it’s fallen out of favor. That’s left an opening for monero — which encrypts recipients’ addresses — to scoop up that core crimedoer demo. [Bloomberg]
10,784 musical compositions
Wixen Music Publishing is suing streaming service Spotify, claiming they infringed on the copyrights of 10,784 songs in Wixen’s library, and that Spotify didn’t obtain the correct licenses to stream those songs, including those of Tom Petty and the Doors. Wixen is saying it could be owed as much as $1.6 billion. [The Wrap]
The Tiangong-1, a 19,000-pound Chinese space station that the nation reportedly lost control of two years ago, will likely come crashing down to earth sometime in March 2018. If the when is iffy, the where is even worse: scientists know that it’ll come down somewhere between the 43° North and 43° South latitudes, but that is a massive range encompassing every inhabited continent on the planet. [CBS New York]
In case you needed a reminder that things are different in Canada: Thanks to a new program, the 4 million youth of Ontario who are under 25-years-old will now have access to free prescription medications, provided the drugs come from a list of 4,400 approved medications. [CTV News]
Meanwhile, in the United States, people are turning to social media to pay for treatment. There have been $900 million in donations on YouCaring — a project similar to Kickstarter or GoFundMe, but with a specific eye towards charitable fundraising — since 2011 that went to medical campaigns. [Mother Jones]
Amazon announced Tuesday that it shipped upwards of 5 billion items in 2017 to Prime subscribers alone. One of the hot items of the year — Instant Pot multicookers — was one bellwether of the digital giant’s reach. Amazon delivered at least one Instant Pot to two out of every three U.S. zip codes. [Quartz]
Check out Besides the Points, my new sports newsletter.
If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.
Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): It’s the first weekly politics chat of 2018!!! Happy New Year!
As a New Year’s present, I got you all a game that will very likely make everyone look foolish by the end of 2018: I’m going to ask each of you to make three political predictions — one that you think has a 10 percent chance of happening in 2018, one that has a 50 percent chance and one with a 90 percent chance.
Everyone got it?
harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): Okie dokie.
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Yes.
hilary.krieger (Hilary Krieger, Washington editor): I’d say there’s an 85 percent chance I understood that correctly.
micah: That’s not bad!
hilary.krieger: If you’re a glass half-full type of person, I suppose.
micah: OK, so we’ll go Harry -> Hilary -> Perry and then snake back around.
Harry, give us your 90 percent prediction!
harry: There’s a 90 percent chance that Democrats will pick up at least 14 seats in the House of Representatives in 2018.
perry: That could be 99 percent too, right?
micah: Yeah. That seems overly safe. Harry, defend your timidity.
Maybe Perry and I are overestimating Democratic prospects?
hilary.krieger: Setting a low bar for getting election predictions right is always a good strategy.
harry: I tried to choose a number that wasn’t too high or too low. PredictIt, for example, says there’s an 84 percent chance that the GOP has 230 seats or less after the midterms. They had 241 after the 2016 elections.
If I was saying the Democrats would pick up a net gain of 1 or greater, it would be significantly higher.
micah: What about 24 or more (enough to win the majority)?
harry: Well, that’s a very specific forecast. I’ve been looking at that. Almost everyone thinks it’s greater than 50 percent. I’d say maybe a 60 percent to 80 percent chance. It depends a lot on assumptions about how the national vote is translated to seats won and lost, etc.
micah: OK, Hilary, what do you think has a 90 percent chance of happening?
hilary.krieger: Even though Congress still hasn’t figured out how to get a year-long budget approved — making the prospect of a government shutdown a beloved bargaining chip for both sides and something the media will hype because well, duh — I think there’s a 90 percent chance the government won’t shut down.
perry: Hmm. This is more risky. A shutdown around Christmas was always a long shot. But now, while a shutdown is still unlikely, it seems like 1. Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus will be less eager to listen to Paul Ryan with the odds going up that he will no longer be the House speaker after 2018 and 2. the Democrats are getting lots of pressure from the left on DACA and may need to show they are serious about that issue.
hilary.krieger: That’s my 10 percent wiggle room!
micah: Where would you put the odds, Perry?
perry: 75 percent.
harry: This sort of reminds me of the odds that the Democrats will take back the House. We know the chance is north of 50 percent, but I don’t know where the odds are that the government won’t shut down.
The DACA point is interesting to me, though. Democrats have moved far to the left on immigration.
micah: I’m with Hilary on this. I don’t see Democrats making that bet.
harry: I certainly agree it would be a bad bet.
I just don’t know how to handicap it. It’s north of 50 percent.
hilary.krieger: Ryan leaving the speakership I think mixes things up more. So it depends on what the odds are of that happening …
micah: Which is more likely: the Freedom Caucus forcing a shutdown or Senate Democrats forcing one?
hilary.krieger: I think the former, but the chances of it have gone way down since they shifted their strategy to back the funding bills in December.
It’s certainly a good test to see how far toward taking more hardline positions Democrats are willing to go.
perry: I expect Trump will be aligned with the Freedom Caucus (no DACA policy without some kind of very strong immigration enforcement proposals). So the legislation as written will be conservative and Democrats will be doing the shutting down. But this is really conjecture.
harry: This is going to be a delicate balancing act for the Democrats: Voters don’t want a shutdown, but DACA is popular (especially among Democrats).
micah: I feel like Democrats can accept almost any border security measure except a wall.
Which leaves a lot of bargaining space.
Anyway, OK … Perry, your 90 percent prediction, please.
perry: Maybe this is like Harry’s and too obvious/easy. But I think there’s a 90 percent chance that Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will not end in 2018. The uncertainty here is that one person really wants it to end and he is president.
micah: Ohhhhh … that’s interesting!
harry: I actually don’t think that that is too obvious.
micah: Yeah, I’m a bit surprised by that.
harry: Explain, Mr. Bacon.
perry: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have been indicted but not yet tried. So that will take time. And I expect the investigation of higher-up people will continue as well. I just don’t know how easy it is to end such a complicated investigation. Will the Trump part be resolved in 2018? Maybe.
But there is a lot of complexity here.
micah: Is there a window where Mueller won’t want to release stuff right before the midterms? In other words, will the investigation go quiet from like September through November?
perry: Also, you have to assume that Mueller makes no indictments after say July/August. Right.
What Micah said.
hilary.krieger: I’m with Perry. Check out the chart from this story; investigations like this rarely end in less than two years:
perry: So that also complicates ending it.
harry: Interesting, Hilary.
hilary.krieger: The investigations that did end within two years were of single people/much-more-contained plot lines.
micah: OK, Perry, you’re up again with your 50 percent prediction.
perry: There’s a 50 percent chance that Democrats win both the House and the Senate.
micah: WAY TOO HIGH!
perry: Your response is interesting.
micah: Hmmm …
I guess my question is how independent are they? They’re not independent, obviously. But the weird Senate map makes them somewhat disconnected.
perry: It would seem to me that it will be difficult but possible for Democrats to 1. hold all their red-state Senate seats; 2. win in Nevada and Arizona; and 3. win the House (likely, at least right now). So that’s my thinking.
Curious what Harry thinks.
harry: I think it’s too high. The reason is the Senate side, which is what Perry hints at. I see Democrats winning in Arizona and Nevada. But those aren’t 100 percent. Then they’d need to hold onto the slew of red-state Senate seats (Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia). I’d expect Democrats to hold on to most, if not all, of them, but, again, it’ll be tough. I will say that a big win in the House for Democrats is certainly correlated with a big win in the Senate. But they aren’t totally dependent on each other.
perry: Where would you guys and gal put those odds?
For both houses.
micah: 20 percent to 25 percent?
We’ll have an actual model to answer this come the summer, but that’s my ballpark as of now.
harry: I might be a little north of there … somewhere between Micah’s and Perry’s.
I’ll also note that we lack polling in a lot of these races.
hilary.krieger: As I mentioned about making low-bar predictions on elections, I’ll just go with 25 percent.
micah: Hilary, your 50-50 prediction please.
hilary.krieger: I think there’s a 50 percent chance that Jared Kushner gets indicted. There have been a lot of hints in the current investigation that he’s involved in key elements of a narrative that has already yielded a bunch of other indictments, and the White House has upped its panic meter recently, suggesting that they’re worried. But it still is far from clear that he did anything to warrant a move that would turn the White House upside down.
micah: That’s a good one!
perry: I would put that at less, just because it’s a constitutional crisis-level move. It’s the president’s son-in-law and one of his top advisers. But this is one of those things where our lack of knowledge is really high.
hilary.krieger: Hence going 50-50!
harry: I have no problem with 50 percent given the uncertainty. It could be less as Perry says, but I have no real idea.
micah: 50 percent seems right to me.
But, yeah, I really have no idea.
Harry, you’re up!
harry: There’s a 50 percent chance that someone resigns from Trump’s Cabinet in 2018.
hilary.krieger: Way too low!
harry: Only one person (Tom Price, who was the health and human services secretary) has resigned so far. I’m not counting firings (former chief of staff Reince Priebus). And, of course, John Kelly had to leave his position at the Homeland Security Department to replace Priebus.
perry: Would you count someone like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who is apparently being actively pushed out) but will say that he is “resigning”?
harry: No. I want a real resignation.
micah: But, Harry, you’re talking about someone resigning in protest? Or just resigning?
harry: I’m talking about resigning and not forced out by Trump.
So perhaps that is in protest. Maybe they’re just tired of the job.
hilary.krieger: Isn’t that often the same? I don’t think Price would have left if Trump hadn’t pressured him. But I still think it’s a real resignation!
perry: However we define resigning, I think Tillerson is likely to be out. So I would put this number at like 85 percent.
harry: Yeah, Tillerson could be canned.
micah: For all of 2018? Aren’t the odds like 99 percent?
harry: What I’m essentially saying is I think there is a 50-50 shot of someone resigning of their own free will.
perry: So a Cabinet member beyond Tillerson, I would put at 50 percent.
hilary.krieger: Yeah, I just don’t know if we’d know, given how both sides would spin it.
perry: Because people may just want to move on. Sure.
There are more than 20 Cabinet members, besides Tillerson.
micah: The chances of a protest resignation — in response to something Trump did or was doing — are maybe more interesting. I’d put those at like 10 percent.
perry: I agree.
micah: But the chances of any resignation are like 100 percent.
Not really, but you know what I mean.
harry: I feel good in the middle.
micah: Harry, your 10 percent bet please.
harry: There’s a 10 percent chance that Republicans get rid of the Senate filibuster in 2018.
micah: Good one!
hilary.krieger: Ooh. I like that.
perry: That seems way high. I’d put it at almost zero. But interesting. I think the odds of them losing control of the Senate in 2018 mean the odds of them making that kind of change go down.
micah: How much influence does Trump have on this? None?
hilary.krieger: He could push Majority Leader Mitch McConnell either way on this depending how PO’d he is at the White House at the time.
micah: I’d imagine him being a force pushing to get rid of it, but I don’t see McConnell caring much what Trump wants.
hilary.krieger: Sorry, I worded that badly. I meant that if Trump pushes to get rid of it, that could actually make McConnell keep it just to stick it to Trump.
micah: Ah, yeah.
OK, Hilary … what has a 10 percent chance of happening?
hilary.krieger: Continuing on the indictment front … I think there’s a 10 percent chance that the Justice Department, egged on by the White House and Hill Republicans, ends up indicting Hillary Clinton over, well, anything to distract attention and erode credibility from what Mueller’s doing.
harry: Wow — that would be a disaster.
micah: Oh man.
That seems high but would be a disaster and therefore will likely happen.
What are the chances of a Clinton-related special counsel if there’s a 10 percent chance of an indictment?
perry: Yeah, that would be legit worrisome in terms of norms and so on. A really big problem. I tend to think those odds are very, very low and close to zero, but …
micah: I’d put the chances of a special counsel or some other full-blown investigation higher than 10 percent but the chances of an indictment much lower.
perry: I feel like Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to politely blow off this idea.
hilary.krieger: I agree that 10 percent is at the high end of the range, but that was the assignment! I do think it’s easier than it looks, though, because, to Micah’s point, you don’t need a special prosecutor to indict Clinton.
perry: Special counsels tend to find crimes or indict people.
harry: I agree it’s a non-zero chance.
When you get to the tails, it’s a little difficult to know the odds.
hilary.krieger: And on Sessions, I agree with Perry, but he might have already used up all his capital in terms of deflecting White House pressure when he recused himself on Russia.
micah: The Justice Department is already investigating the uranium stuff, right?
Well, actually, they’re reportedly reviewing what the FBI did in the case, so maybe that’s overstating it a bit.
micah: Perry, you’re up.
perry: There’s a 10 percent chance that H. R. McMaster, James Mattis, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and John Kelly will all be out of the administration by the end of 2018. All of them are either (i) controversial/in legal trouble, (ii) tired of Trump, or (iii) likely scapegoats for 2018 defeats (both electorally and on policy).
hilary.krieger: Et tu, Ivanka??
micah: Who’s the most and least likely to be out among that group?
Ivanka is least?
perry: I would say Mattis is most likely to stay, then Kelly, then McMaster. I could easily see Jared and Ivanka moving to New York, saying that they have done their time and will advise the administration from afar.
perry: The generals give Trump some legitimacy with the Hill, and they seem to have some autonomy to deal with issues they really care about.
hilary.krieger: But Ivanka is his own flesh and blood! That’s the kind of thing Trump seems to value.
micah: Thanks, everyone! To close us out … I’ll make one prediction:
There’s a 90 percent chance that only 20 percent of readers made it this far in the chat.
Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez as head football coach tonight after a former athletics department employee accused him of sexual harassment; a university investigation into those accusations found “information” that led the department to be “concerned,” according to a statement from the university.
The Miami Herald is publishing a five-part series on the Marlins’ new front office’s plans for the team, and per today’s introductory piece, the essence of CEO Derek Jeter’s strategy is something like this: Make big payroll cuts by trading away the team’s most popular players, increase gate revenue by selling more…
Down in Big D, it’s year two for quarterback Dak Prescott and Dallas Cowboys. In 2016, Dallas went 13-3 and advanced all the way to the NFC Divisional round. In the second round, the lost to the Green Bay Packers.
Like last season, the Dallas Cowboys begin 2017 by opening against the New York Giants. On this Sunday night divisional game, the Cowboys win 19-3 going to 1-0.
In the second week of the regular season, the Cowboys traveled to Denver to face the Broncos. Not only did they have to deal with the altitudein Colorado, but also the weather. After a two-hour weather delay, the game resumed. For Dallas, they wished it was still going on.
The Cowboys lost to the Broncos 42-17. In week three, the Cowboys traveled to Arizona to take on the Cardinals for a battle on Monday Night Football. In game three, the Cowboys would defeat the Cardinals 28-17 improving their overall record to 2-1.
In the final two games before the bye week, the Dallas Cowboys would face two dominant teams in the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers. Both games were at home and both games the Cowboys would lose. First, 35-31 against the Rams and then 35-30 against the Packers.
While the Dallas Cowboys were on their bye week, Ezekiel Elliott learned that after the NFL’s long look at Elliotts DomesticViolence charge, he will serve the six-game suspension starting in week 9 when the Cowboys travel to Atlanta, Georgia to face the Atlanta Falcons.
In the final three games before Zeke’s suspension, the Cowboys defeated the San Francisco 48ers, Washington Redskins, and Kansas City Chiefs. During the six-game suspension, the Cowboys went 3-3 with no Elliott on the field.
On Christmas Eve, the Dallas Cowboys got their running back Ezekiel Elliott back for a crucialgame vs. Seattle. Unfortunately, the Seattle Seahawks won 21-12 eliminating them from the Playoffs. In the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, Cowboys won 6-0 making their final overall record 7-9, 2nd place in the NFC East, and currently holding the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
At the end of 2017 regular season, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Terrance Williams were the leading passer, rusher, and receiver of the team respectively.
Demarcus Lawrence, Zach Martain, and Travis Fredrick. In April, the Dallas Cowboys will host the 2018 Draft with the 19th overall pick.
The 2018 midterms got a bit more exciting on Tuesday. The longest serving Republican senator in American history, Orrin Hatch of Utah, announced that he would not run for re-election. His retirement is unlikely to provide Democrats with much of an opportunity to win another Senate seat, but the door is now wide open for Trump nemesis and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has reportedly told people he would enter the race if Hatch retired.
So, let’s break down Utah’s newly open Senate race …
1. Utah is really, really red.
Pretty much by any measure you look at, Utah comes out as one of the most Republican-leaning states in the country. The GOP holds a massive 4-to-1 advantage over Democrats in voter registrations. According to Gallup, only Wyoming gives Republicans a larger lead in party affiliation. Republicans have won 15 consecutive Senate elections in the state dating back to 1974. Democrats haven’t even won a governor’s race in Utah since 1980. And even though Trump won the state by a smaller margin than every Republican presidential nominee except one5 dating back to 1964, he still was able to win by 18 percentage points.
Though Hatch has been unpopular in the state, he would have been a favorite for re-election. A November survey gave him a 15-point lead over potential Democratic nominee Jenny Wilson. Democrats are desperate for another Senate seat to contest in 2018 — in addition to Nevada and Arizona — but Utah probably isn’t the best place for them to look.
2. But Trump is unusually unpopular for a Republican.
Trump managed to carry Utah handily in 2016, but that likely had more to do with his party affiliation than Trump himself. Trump won only 45 percent of the vote in a race that featured independent conservative Evan McMullin as well as Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump won just 14 percent of the vote in Utah’s Republican caucus, which was far less than the 45 percent he won nationally during the nomination process. To boot, his net approval rating has been teetering around break even in the state. For a Republican president in Utah, that’s bad.
Will Utah’s dislike of Trump affect the 2018 Senate election? Well, maybe not. Utah is red enough that almost any Republican candidate will be a clear favorite there despite Trump’s poor numbers. That’s especially true if Romney — who is well-known and has a clear anti-Trump resume — wins the nomination. That said, if the GOP nominates a more Trumpian candidate, it’s possible to imagine him or her having some problems. After all, Trump won only a plurality (as opposed to a majority) of the Utah vote in 2016.
3. Anti-Trumpism has won in Utah already.
Last year, there was a trial run of sorts for anti-Trump Republicanism in Utah. Former Provo Mayor John Curtis ran in a special election to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. During the primary, he admitted that he didn’t vote for Trump, and he won the primary against two candidates who did. That race was fairly close, however, with Curtis winning only 43 percent of the vote. Curtis then went on to win the general election by 32 percentage points, which was significantly greater than Trump’s 24-point margin in the district. Curtis’s win is particularly interesting given the large swing against Republicans in most 2017 special elections.
These numbers suggest that even if Romney decides not to run, a GOP candidate in his mold could win a primary and would be a favorite in the general.
4. Romney would be a heavy favorite
If Romney does enter the race, it’s hard to see him losing — the primary or the general. In a survey taken in November, Romney was rated among the most popular politician in the state. His net favorability among all voters was +47 percentage points — far higher than Trump’s. He also scored a +73 net favorability among Utah Republicans. (By contrast, Romney’s popularity among GOP voters nationally plummeted when he spoke out against Trump during the 2016 primaries.) The same poll found Romney with an astounding 51 percentage point lead against potential Democratic nominee Wilson.
In short: If Romney runs, he’d be as big a favorite as favorites get.
5. A candidate can take the argument directly to the voters.
One last logistical point: Republican candidates used to have to win or place second in a statewide convention to get on the primary ballot. That might have been a problem for a Romney-esque candidate. Longtime Sen. Bob Bennett was defeated in such a convention in 2010. But the state law was changed in 2014; now, candidates can get on the ballot via the convention or by gathering signatures.6 Curtis, for example, was beaten by the more conservative Chris Herrod in his district’s convention in 2017, but he got on the ballot for the primary and won anyway.
While it is unclear who will be strongest in a convention setting in 2018, widespread appeal is now more important for a candidate to win the nomination. If the polls are correct, Romney has the popularity necessary to win a nomination through a primary.