While Mitt Romney may want the Utah Legislature to come up with $2.5 million to $3 million for a special presidential primary early next year, Utah Democrats say that would take a major rewrite of the state’s presidential primary law.
“And while we believe democracy costs money, it seems like a whole lot of trouble just to accommodate one man or his cause,” says Todd Taylor, the long-time executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.
The Utah Republican Party has already decided that their presidential primary will be held on the state’s regular primary election day – in 2012 that is June 26.
But now some Romney supporters in Utah want the state’s presidential primary moved up into March so a Romney win here could add fuel to his national campaign.
Taylor and the state Democratic Party have decided that they will hold their presidential primary at the normal general election year neighborhood caucuses.
For 2012, Democrats have picked Tuesday night, March 13.
“No matter what the Republicans or state does,” said Taylor, “we are locked in. If they have a presidential primary election, we (Democrats) won’t participate. Our presidential primary will be on our caucus night.”
The state Democratic Party has already certified that night to the Democratic National Committee, Taylor added.
And while a few technical items still must be worked out with the national party for the state party to get the national party’s OK, those will soon be accomplished. Then it will be too late for Utah Democrats to change their presidential primary date.
There are all kinds of procedural problems for Republicans to hold a presidential primary on a March caucus night, Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright has previously told UtahPolicy. Not the least of which is that only registered Republicans can vote in a GOP primary, and it would be difficult for neighborhood GOP caucus hosts to verify party registration, which is done by county clerks in primary elections.
Of course, Democrats figure that President Barack Obama will be the only serious Democratic candidate on the Utah ballot/caucus agenda. And so all of Utah’s Democratic delegates will go to the president.
Republicans, of course, have an open field – and it’s very important, says Wright, that a GOP primary is clear of any fraud or mismanangement.
Romney is today the nominal front-runner, as seen in various public opinion polls. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is also in the race.
But it’s likely that the GOP field will be narrowed down by the time Utah and a few other states, like California, hold their presidential primaries in June 2012.
Meanwhile, Taylor says he believes it is smart for Utah Democrats to hold their 2012 neighborhood party caucuses on Tuesday, March 13.
The state’s candidate filing deadline next year starts on March 9 and ends at 5 p.m. on March 15. So the Democratic caucuses will actually be held two days BEFORE the county, state and federal candidate fields are officially set.
“We think that is a good thing,” said Taylor, who has been a leader in Utah Democratic Party politics for nearly 20 years.
While the minority Democrats usually don’t have a problem finding candidates for the big offices, like the U.S. Senate, U.S. House and governorship, in many heavily GOP parts of the state they have had problems finding candidates to run for the Utah House and Senate and some county offices.
“We think (the early caucus date) can help us recruit candidates more widely across the states – to have the caucus prior to the candidate filing deadline,” said Taylor.
“It gives us a chance to get the Demos together beforehand – and maybe get someone to file” if at the caucus meetings loyal Democrats learn that no Democrat has filed in their legislative or county races.
“We believe it could encourage someone to file before the deadline two days later.”
At the state GOP organizing convention a week and a half ago, a number of the candidates for party office and some delegates were angry with Wright (who won re-election to that post) for deciding to hold the Republican Party caucuses next year on Thursday, March 15 – the deadline for candidate filings.
Wright has previously told UtahPolicy that the State Executive Committee decided on that date so caucus attendees can know for sure who the official candidates are. That is only right and fair, Wright said. The Central Committee will have to ratify the date in August.
But some conservative GOP delegates at the state convention said by holding the Republican caucuses two days after the Democratic caucuses, some Democrats can come into the GOP caucuses and vote on state and county delegates.
And through those delegates, the Democrats or liberal-leaning independents could impact internal GOP candidate selections.
Taylor said as a party Democrats discourage any party member from going to their GOP neighborhood caucuses next year and trying to influence delegate selections.
“But people are people, and they will do what they do,” said Taylor. “If (Democrats) go, we’d ask them not to participate. I’ve gone to Iowa caucuses and other caucuses; I just stand at the back and observe.”
Unlike Republicans, the Utah Democrat Party does not require party registration in order to participate in internal party functions. For example, even though all taxpayers pay the estimated $3 million cost of a primary election, only registered Republicans can vote in a GOP primary.
(An independent registered voter can register as a Republican at the polls on primary day and get a GOP ballot. But a registered Democrat can’t switch parties on primary day; can’t vote in a GOP primary.)
“We don’t require party registration,” said Taylor. “We do ask people to sign a form saying they are a Democrat if they come to our caucus,” he said. The form’s information is also used for fund raising, grassroots party organizing, voter turnout and such.
Taylor said back in the mid-1990s, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Utah Legislature basically deregulated internal political party requirements.
Before then, by law all political parties had to hold their caucuses on the same night. (The old Monday night caucuses were changed to Tuesday night after leaders of the LDS Church complained that the political caucuses were taking faithful members away from their family home evening activities, recalls Taylor.)
For a few years, Republican and Democratic state party leaders didn’t coordinate when they held their March caucuses.
But since then, the two major party leaders have agreed on the same night for caucus meetings.
“We met this year in good faith,” said Taylor. “But we couldn’t agree” on the same night – mainly because the Republicans wanted to wait until the candidate filing period was over, and the Democrats didn’t.
A federal election law aimed at giving overseas military personnel more time to file for, get and mark their ballots has lead to Utah having to change all of their 2012 major election schedules, noted Taylor.
“We had to push everything up in the election-year calendar.”
The candidate filings are earlier (the starting day just one day after the 45-day Legislature ends). The county and state convention dates earlier, as well.
In fact, Utah used to have just a six-to-seven week primary election period – from the end of the party state convention to the last-Tuesday-in-June primary election day.
That was one of the shortest primary election cycles in the United States – which could be seen as a good or bad thing depending on your point of view.
But in 2012 the parties’ state conventions will be moved up into late April from early May.
That means next year the primary election cycle will be up to 10 weeks long – more than a third longer than in recent years.
Competing candidates who make it out of their party conventions will have longer to campaign in a primary race – which probably means primary elections, where campaign funds are difficult to raise – will be even more costly.
On the other side, there will be more time for relatively unknown candidates to become acquainted to party voters – more time for a dark horse to take on an established incumbent.