A number of Utah political insiders have been saying for months that a major part of the Count My Vote initiative – organized and strongly supported by former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt – was to form a path for Leavitt to bypass the conservative Utah Republican Party caucus/convention system, should he run again for some office.
Leavitt was believed interested in challenging U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in Lee’s first re-election bid in 2016.
2016 will be the first general election where SB54, the “grand compromise” that basically installs a candidate petition route to get on a political party’s primary ballot – and bypasses the caucus/convention system – is in place.
But in recent months two close friends/advisors to Leavitt have told UtahPolicy that he is not going to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Leavitt may not support or endorse Lee.
But he won’t run for Lee’s seat within the Utah Republican Party.
Leavitt did not return messages for comment on this story.
Now, as with all of such beliefs, these two folks can be wrong. But both claim personal knowledge about Leavitt’s political future.
As one said: “Mike has had several opportunities to run for the U.S. Senate before, and declined. I believe he is concentrating on building his (health care consulting) business. And it is going well.”
A strong opponent of Obamacare (what Utah Republican isn’t?), a major part of Leavitt’s business (he was secretary of Health and Human Services in the second Bush administration) is consulting states and large corporations on how to deal with the new health care requirements.
Leavitt et al. agreed to end the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition – which would have provided just candidate signature petition route to a party’s primary ballot – in exchange for SB54, and guarantees that the 2015 Legislature wouldn’t gut the measure.
Strongly opposed by most state GOP delegates and the party structure itself (the state GOP is still deciding whether to sue over SB54 or not), SB54 basically forces the two major political parties to provide a dual-track candidate nominating system come 2016.
A candidate can choose to go the current caucus/convention route (but the delegate nomination level in convention increases from 60 percent to 65 percent), or a candidate can decide to gather a certain number of signatures within his district to get on his party’s primary ballot.
That’s 1,000 for a Utah House member, 2,000 for a senator, 7,000 for a U.S. House member and 28,000 for a statewide office, like U.S. Senate or governor.
Or a candidate could decide to do both: Go to his party convention where delegates would vote on him (but could NOT eliminate him from the primary ballot) and gather the required number of voter signatures to ensure a primary ballot position.
Leavitt would have provided a most serious challenge to Lee in two years.
Leavitt clearly has the ability to raise a lot of money, as both his three gubernatorial campaigns proved and as his fund raising work behind the scenes of Count My Vote also demonstrated.
Leavitt himself gave CMV $25,000 (he is a millionaire from his previous work of heading a multi-state family insurance firm).
But his real value lay in convincing other wealthy Utahns (and even a few out-of-staters) to donate heavily to CMV, which raised more than $1 million and was well on the way to getting the direct primary initiative on the 2014 ballot before the SB54 compromise derailed the effort.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a long-time Leavitt friend, is supposed to retire in 2018. I say “supposed” because Hatch appears ready to back out of a promise he made to voters in 2012 not to run again.
Leavitt will be 65 in 2016; 67 in 2018. If he served two, six-year terms, he would be near 80 upon retiring from the Senate if he started in 2018.
If 60 is the new 40, as some claim, then Leavitt would be old – but not too old – to serve two terms in the U.S. Senate – should he decide to try for an open Hatch seat in 2018.
I know that sounds far away.
But Leavitt is known as a meticulous planner – both politically and in his business efforts.
Indeed, if Leavitt were planning on running against Lee, he likely would already have a campaign strategy book sitting on his computer, or in the top drawer of his desk.
Mitt Romney got Leavitt to volunteer hundreds of hours of work as chair of Romney’s “transition” team, planning a smooth transition into a Romney presidency in early 2013.
Of course, all that work basically went for naught – although Leavitt wrote a detailed explanation on how to plan such a transition – after Romney was defeated by President Barack Obama.
A “Leavitt for U.S. Senate” campaign in 2016? I’m told by two close Leavitt friends don’t count on it.
After that, who knows?