Don’t look for the 2014 Democratic and Republican party neighborhood caucuses to be anywhere nearly as large as 2012, leaders of both parties and experts tell UtahPolicy.
The Democratic Party caucuses are Tuesday night, most starting at 7 p.m. You can find you caucus here.
For the second time in a row, the Utah GOP decided to hold their caucuses not on the traditional Tuesday, but on Thursday, which is this coming Thursday, March 20.
You can find your Republican caucus location here, all start at 7 p.m.
In a very real sense, the Democratic and Republican caucus meetings this week see the end of a political era in Utah.
That’s because of the Count My Vote citizen initiative, and SB54 -- the “grand compromise” passed by the 2014 Legislature and signed into law last week by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
In return for ending their petition process, CMV leaders got lawmakers to adopt a dual-track party candidate nominating system.
Starting in 2016, a candidate for state and federal office – U.S. Congress, Legislature, governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer – can decide for himself whether he:
-- Goes the traditional caucus/delegate/convention route to get on his party’s primary ballot.
-- Or choses to gather a set number of voter signatures (voters can be registered in any party, or as an independent) to directly go on to his party’s primary election ballot.
That means this year is the last time (unless the Legislature breaks its deal with CMV) all party candidates must go through their caucus/delegate/convention process – which starts for the Democrats Tuesday night; Thursday night for Republicans.
This spring will come party conventions; the primary is in late June.
While Democrat Party leaders basically sat on the sidelines during the CMV debate (at least one poll showed that only 8 percent of Utah Democrats favored the caucus/convention process of their own party), Republican leaders have been in the thick of opposing CMV from the petition’s start last year.
Both GOP and Democratic party leaders, in spring 2013 conventions, refused to change their caucus/convention rules as CMV leaders asked – which could have been a way of avoiding the CMV direct primary petition drive.
That led to a tortured SB54 battle in the just-finished Legislature – and the “grand compromise” of a dual-track approach.
For a year, James Evans, state GOP chairman, and his staff have been preparing for Thursday night’s caucuses across the state.
They have encouraged turnout in a number of ways, including putting out a video, which you can see here.
But Evans doesn’t expect the huge 2012 turnout of 125,000 Republicans this Thursday, even though the Utah GOP has made a number of changes to make it easier for folks who can’t attend in person to still cast a delegate vote.
First, they allowed registered Republicans to sign up for their caucus meetings online at the party HQ site: www.utgop.org.
And registered Republicans can also print out a caucus/delegate ballot, vote for a delegate, and send that ballot to Thursday night’s meeting with a trusted friend or neighbor.
You can learn about those changes at the GOP web site here.
Evans says that he hopes for a turnout similar to 2012’s, but realizes that is a high goal.
“We had the trifecta last time: Sen. Orrin Hatch’s effort, Mitt Romney on the ballot; and the LDS Church’s very vocal in getting its members” to all party caucuses, said Evans.
2010 saw about 58,000 Republicans attending caucuses. “We hope for better than that,” said Evans.
The state GOP collaborated with various other Republican campaigns and organizations this year, said Evans. Tens of thousands of “first-time” attendees in 2012 were identified and specifically targeted with direct mail and contacts to get them out again this year, he added.
Likewise, Democratic Party boss Jim Dabakis (who is also a state senator) says that Hatch’s huge spending for the 2012 GOP caucuses carried over into Democratic Party turnout.
“Combined with the LDS Church’s” push, “people were psyched up last time,” said Dabakis, who added that the state party is spending around $350,000 this year, and spent around $500,000 in 2012 on caucus planning and party-member turnout.
(LDS Church leaders, who for years have encouraged civic duties, like voting, took an unusual interest in the 2012 caucuses – eliminating all church meetings on Tuesday and Thursday nights and several times, in reading letters during local church services, encouraging members to attend their party caucuses.)
“But we were blown away by Hatch’s spending” in 2012, said Dabakis.
Still, many Democratic caucus meetings were jammed.
I attended a blended meeting in the Utah Capitol facility lunchroom – where individual precinct leaders had problems dealing with all those crowded around lunch tables.
“I think it is fair to say we won’t see that kind” of turnout Tuesday night, said Dabakis.
Dave Hansen was Hatch’s campaign manager in 2012. He set out a tough task – organize statewide for the 2012 GOP caucus meetings, get Hatch supporters out and get Hatch supporters elected delegates to ensure Hatch got through the Republican State Convention and was not eliminated, as former Sen. Bob Bennett was in 2010.
In the five preceding years, Hatch had spent $4 million out of his large campaign fund.
Not all of it – but most of it – came in Hansen’s organization of the caucuses.
“While it is hard to tell, I think we probably turnout out between 30,000 and 50,000 people” for the 2012 caucuses, Hansen told UtahPolicy on Monday.
In other words, out of around 125,000 Republicans who came to their party caucuses in 2012, Hatch’s effort turned out 30,000 (24 percent) to 50,000 (40 percent) of the total, Hansen believes.
At a GOP caucus meeting I attended two years ago, one man told me that four years previous only four people came, yet more than 50 showed up at that 2012 meeting.
If it was possible, Hansen said two years ago, for any campaign to organize, spend, and influence statewide caucus meetings – and thus state delegate loyalties – Hatch would do it. And Hatch and Hansen did. Hatch nearly won the nomination outright at convention, then went on to an easy primary victory.
This year Hansen is running Mia Love’s 4th Congressional District race. Love narrowly lost to Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in the 4th in 2012.
Hansen doesn’t have the money, nor the need, to be as aggressive this year in the GOP caucus turnout.
That’s because Hatch was being attacked from the right – and the caucus attendees/delegates are more conservative than rank-and-file Utah Republicans.
Love is a darling of Utah archconservatives.
Also, Love doesn’t have the tough intra-party challengers that Hatch had. (Although Hansen is careful to point out that the candidate filing deadline is 5 p.m. this Thursday, just two hours before the GOP caucuses meet.)
Hansen declined to say how much Love is spending in caucus organization.
But he puts his efforts in this prediction: In 2012 around 22,000 people came to the 4th District GOP caucus meetings.
This Thursday Hansen predicts only around 12,000 to 15,000 will show up in the 4th.
A huge drop, nearly by half, at the lower estimate.
“There are not as many competitive races this time around,” says Hansen, who is recognized as the premiere GOP campaign manager and strategist in Utah.
“There is really only one race in the 4th – Mia’s.”
It hasn’t gotten the attention it did two years ago, mainly because Matheson has announced his retirement and national handicappers immediately switched the Utah 4th from “leaning Democratic” to “likely Republican.”
In 2012 there was a U.S. Senate race in Utah, a governor’s race, and Utah heartthrob Mitt Romney was the GOP presidential nominee.
There was a lot of excitement politically two years ago, which is missing this year, said Hansen – no U.S. Senate race, no governor’s race, no Jim Matheson race.
“That as much as anything has caused the drop off” in caucus-night attendance.
Also, hard-core Republicans were ready to attend their caucus meetings this March as a show of force against Count My Vote.
Now with the SB54 compromise, the caucus/convention system will survive (if somewhat muted). The show of support is not as needed.