Donna McAleer, the defeated Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District, realized at the outset that beating a Republican incumbent in a heavily GOP district would be difficult.
But she did not anticipate the results on Election Day would be as wide as they were. McAleer, a 47-year-old Pinebrook resident who was running in her first political campaign, lost the contest by nearly 47 percentage points to Congressman Rob Bishop. He won a sixth term in Washington, D.C., by taking 71.5 percent of the votes to McAleer's 24.7 percent.
"A large number of the voters believed in me," she said, adding, "I'm proud having earned those votes."
McAleer was a rare congressional candidate from Summit County, winning the Democratic nominating contest over a party rival from one of the heavily populated parts of the district. An Army veteran with a background as a businessperson and a nonprofit executive, McAleer campaigned as someone who related with the military voters in northern Utah as well as the moderates elsewhere in the district.
McAleer, though, was only able to win one county within the 1st Congressional District, taking her home county with 54.5 percent of the votes to Bishop's 43.2 percent. The other nine counties within the district went for Bishop. He routed McAleer outside of Summit County, more than doubling her numbers in each of the other counties.
McAleer was expected to perform well in Summit County, but it accounts for only a small percentage of the overall population of the congressional district. She needed to make significant inroads elsewhere for the contest to have been competitive.
"That's what I was most surprised about -- how lopsided it was," McAleer said.
She acknowledged that the popularity in Utah of the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, had an impact on the down-ticket campaigns like hers. She had said prior to Election Day that Romney's presence on the ballot could attract some voters to the polls. She said afterward the impact was more dramatic than her campaign had anticipated.
"We definitely underestimated the Romney tsunami," McAleer said.
She pointed to the difficulties of winning against a seated congressman, calling Bishop an "entrenched incumbent." Challengers do not command the same name recognition as an incumbent, she said, describing a "voter psychology" in which people are accustomed to casting a ballot for an incumbent.
McAleer also noted that the election was the first held since the congressional districts were redrawn by state legislators based on the results of the census in 2010. The 1st Congressional District is among the most conservative in the nation, she said. McAleer said she wants Bishop to be successful and put Utah first.
"I'm hoping the campaign influenced him, but I don't see his incentive to change legislatively," she said.
McAleer said she was "thrilled" and "gratified" with the results in Summit County and that she was proud of newspaper endorsements she received in Park City and Ogden. McAleer said she is pleased she raised more campaign money than Bishop did toward the end of the campaign and that individuals financially supported her campaign.
She will continue teaching skiing at Deer Valley Resort and she is starting a job search. McAleer was not sure whether she will seek work in government, the not-for-profit sector or the private sector.
McAleer said she would consider running for elected office again, with another congressional campaign not being ruled out. She said she has not decided whether she would challenge in the 1st Congressional District again in 2014.
In a message sent to her supporters after the loss, McAleer alluded to her future, but she did not commit to another campaign. The message asked her backers not to throw away yard signs and said her team would collect and store them.
"This may not be our time and taking down entrenched politicians is never an easy task (just look at the results nationally) but this campaign has proven that Utah has an appetite for an independent leader who will put Utah first. And trust me this is not the last you've heard from me," she said in the message.