Bucking a desire of past Utah GOP leaders, in 2012 Utahns will NOT have an early vote in the presidential primary sweepstakes.
In fact, it’s likely that Utah will be one of the later voting states – with the Utah GOP executive committee deciding that the Republican presidential primary won’t be held until June 26, 2012.
“We decided to go with the likes of California and have a June (presidential) primary,” Thomas Wright, state GOP chairman, told UtahPolicy on Monday.
If you remember back to the 1990s, then-GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt went to great extremes trying to form a western states presidential primary in January or February of a presidential election year.
In subsequent presidential years both the Democratic and Republican state parties also tried to have early primaries – often only to see that by the Utah date (after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and others had held their presidential elections), there wasn’t much of a mixed field left, with many of the candidates already dropping out.
Wright said it’s estimated that an early Utah presidential primary next year would cost taxpayers around $3 million.
And considering the state’s economic difficulties, such a use of that kind of cash might be resented by some Utahns.
In 2008 Utah spent around $2 million on an early February presidential primary vote. Then-candidate Mitt Romney won the Utah GOP ballot with around 90 percent of the vote – even though it was clear that early that Romney was not going to win the GOP nomination.
Only 22 percent of Utah registered voters cast GOP ballots in 2008 (Romney had 291,000 votes). President Barack Obama won the Democratic primary with only 131,000 votes.
The Utah GOP alternative in 2012 to having taxpayers pick up the presidential tab would be to hold a “caucus primary” in mid-March, the normal time when political parties hold their neighborhood mass party meetings to selected delegates to county and state conventions, which are held in April or May.
Wright said since Republicans hold closed primaries, with only registered party members voting, it would be a technical nightmare in the caucus meetings to try to determine who was legally a GOP registered voter – and thus able to cast a ballot in the presidential race.
It’s possible some registered Republicans would be turned away – making them really mad – while some Democrats or independents would be allowed to vote, violating GOP rules.
So, GOP Utah leaders decided it would just be better all around to hold their presidential primary on the regular primary election date – the last Tuesday in June.
Since both Democrats and Republicans will be holding any statewide or local primary elections on that June day, it won’t cost the state or counties any more money to hold a statewide presidential primary vote that day, said Wright.
But, he realizes, by moving the Utah presidential primary back from early in the year to June, it’s the opposite of what many GOP Utah leaders have been trying to do over the last two decades: Make Utah more of a player in early primary battles.
Leavitt, who went on to serve in President George W. Bush’s cabinet, argued that Utah and other mountain west states needed to move their presidential primary elections up toward the first of the year to become a major player in presidential politics.
In fact, before a number of surrounding states got out of the 1996 “western states presidential primary,” Leavitt was saying that no GOP presidential candidate could afford to bypass Utah and the other mountain states. Leavitt said at the time the candidates would have to campaign and visit here often, because combined those states’ delegate counts could decide the 1996 GOP presidential nominee.
However, such an impact by mountain west states in presidential elections didn’t happen then, and has not happened since.
Now Wright, perhaps better gauging Utah’s real position in national politics, said what is the point in holding a March GOP primary next year?
The Republican National Committee has already decided that no new states can hold a primary or caucus in January and February 2012, he said.
And a March presidential primary in Utah would just cost $3 million when it doesn’t matter that much, said Wright.
Since Utah is so heavily Republican, whoever the GOP nominee ultimately is, he or she will win Utah and our six Electoral College votes.
“Let’s just go later” in the year, when the GOP presidential field will be narrowed, said Wright.
If the Republican nominee has not been decided by June, then California, Utah, and other June-voting states will really be important.
Still, like in other presidential campaigns, it is unlikely that either the leading GOP or Democratic candidates (Obama will be the Democratic nominee unless there is some kind of scandal or tragedy) won’t be campaigning in Utah – our six Electoral College votes are just too few, the outcome clearly going into the GOP camp.
In 2008 then-candidate Mitt Romney came to Utah several times, but only to raise money. He took more than $4 million out of the state.
He held few public campaign events here and ended up winning the GOP primary with 90 percent of the vote.
If Romney and/or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. are still in the GOP race come June 2012, one of those “favorite sons” most assuredly will win the Utah vote.
Ivan DuBois, state GOP executive director, said it is still undecided how many national delegates Utah will get to the 2012 national convention.
In 2008, Utah had 36 national GOP delegates. The 2012 number will be announced sometime after Oct. 1, with a complicated formula based on GOP statewide officeholders, population and other factors going into it.
Wright said aside from the late June primary, the delegate selection proves will take place next year as usual: The 30-odd national delegates will be picked in a vote in the May state GOP convention.
Presidential candidates can run approved slates, as they have in the past. But historically, state GOP delegates have selected a mix of national delegates.
It’s a winner-take-all June primary – no proportional delegate selections.
“The whole (Utah) delegation must cast their ballots” in the national convention – to be held in Tampa, Fla., -- for the winner in the June 2012 GOP primary, said Wright.
“As (state party) chairman, I will be there in part to ensure” that Utah’s delegates don’t go astray in the first convention ballot.