State GOP leaders say they will make an unprecedented effort to turn out all kinds of rank-and-file Republicans for their upcoming mid-March neighborhood party caucuses, where county and state convention delegates will be chosen.
In their respective conventions, delegates will vote on candidates. If any candidate gets 60 percent of the delegate count, he’s the nominee. If not, the top two vote-getters advance to a (closed, in the case of Republicans) June primary.
“We are well on our way; and we will make this happen,” says state GOP chairman Thomas Wright, whose goal is to nearly double the 58,000 people who attended the 2010 GOP caucuses.
While it would always be nice to have a good turnout at any political party function/election, the 2012 caucus target of just over 100,000 attendees will likely have various interesting consequences.
Here are a few:
-- A large GOP caucus turnout on March 15 (the date party bosses have set) could blunt the influence of so-called party “right-wingers” and/or Tea Partiers.
-- Doubling the number of caucus attendees would greatly expand party loyalist rolls, helping with fund raising and GOP turnout in the 2012 general elections.
-- Such a caucus turnout of Utahns could curtail any internal or external attempts to change and/or bypass the current caucus/convention system used by the Utah Republican Party to nominate its candidates.
And the caucus turnout effort may not be solely an attempt by GOP leaders to rally its grassroots, but may include (in an ancillary move not connected with the GOP) leaders of the state Democrats and other institutions, even the LDS Church.
UtahPolicy has heard rumors for some time that LDS Church leaders may make a special effort to get Utahns to all party caucuses next March, efforts that could include formally cancelling all church meetings on the two caucus evenings.
For various reasons, state Democrats will be holding their caucuses on the night of Tuesday, March 13.
In recent history, both the major parties have held their caucuses on the same night. But that won’t be the case in 2012.
The candidate filing deadline doesn’t end until Thursday, March 15 at 5 p.m.
And despite some complaints from party loyalists that having a different caucus night for Republicans could lead to Democrats or liberal independents coming to GOP caucuses to cause mischief in selecting county and state GOP delegates, Republican leaders decided to hold their caucuses on Thursday night, March 15.
That way, GOP caucus attendees will know who the candidates are for all offices, since the candidate fields will be set by county clerks and the State Elections Office at the 5 p.m. deadline.
Democrats actually may not know who all the candidates are, since they are holding their caucuses two days before the filing deadline.
But Democratic Party leaders say that might be a good thing, since at their caucuses they will know if no Democratic candidate has filed for an office within a certain set of precincts, and the caucus may turn into a candidate recruitment forum.
In any case, Tuesday night caucuses are the norm, and Democratic Party leaders decided to stay with that traditional night.
UtahPolicy is told that there are few formal LDS Church meetings on Thursday nights. But there are many youth group and bishopric or state presidency meetings on Tuesday nights.
Cancelling Tuesday and/or Thursday night LDS Church meetings that week would free up many community/civic leaders to attend the party caucus of their choice.
“I would encourage leaders of the LDS Church, any other church, all employers and any other groups to accommodate their members or employees to get them to attend their party caucuses. It’s the right thing to do,” said Wright.
(Over many years LDS Church leaders regularly encourage faithful members to be active in political and civic affairs and to vote in elections. Church leaders don’t, however, endorse candidates or political parties or their platforms.)
The overall point being, the efforts of the state Republican and Democratic parties and other groups to turn out Utahns to March neighborhood caucus meetings could have real impacts on the 2012 elections.
Wright certainly hopes so. He says he plans on spending (and is currently trying to raise) $300,000 to pay for GOP caucus-related activities.
Around $200,000 will go to various public advertising and social media to get regular caucus attendees to show up again and encourage new Republicans to get involved.
“We’ve personally met with all 29 county (Republican Party) leaders. We’ve already identified the precincts that had low participation, and we can make great improvements there. We will identify precinct leaders sooner – many have already agreed to hold meetings – we’ll find locations for the meetings earlier, and announce where they are,” said Wright, who added that Utah shouldn’t be 47th among the states in general election voter turnout and getting folks involved in their party caucuses is the first, and most important, step in raising that “sad” ranking.
The state GOP has 10 trained people who will be traveling the state soon, in turn training precinct meeting chairs how to hold a “competent, fair meeting – a welcoming meeting without booing or hissing” as various candidates or incumbents are mentioned, he said.
“That happened last time” in 2010, but won’t again, Wright said.
“We will be buying TV and radio ads promoting our caucuses. We’ll be using social media. We can get 18.5 percent of the 525,000 registered Republicans in Utah (about 100,000 people) to these caucuses – that’s our goal and we’ll make it.”
It’s generally agreed that the relatively large turnout at the 2010 GOP caucuses changed the face of Utah politics, at least to the point of punting incumbent GOP Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, from office.
Bennett, facing an angry group of state GOP delegates finished third in the May 2010 state GOP convention, denying him a primary ballot spot and ending his 18-year career.
Public opinion polls later showed that many Utahns were unhappy that they didn’t get a chance to vote on Bennett’s political future.
Various 2010 estimates put the number of new GOP delegates at between 50 percent to 40 percent in that convention, many of them Tea Party advocates who were sick of politics as usual in Washington, D.C.
Attendance at the 2010 GOP caucuses came in at 58,000, twice the number that showed up in 2008.
Doubling that to 100,000 next March is achievable, says Wright.
While many of those would certainly be conservative Utahns, many even on the party’s right wing, it’s also assumed that more moderate Republicans would be showing up, thus lessening the impact seen by Tea Partiers in the 2010 intra-party nominations and politics.
But Wright denies that “blunting the right” is his or any other party leader’s goal.
“I am completely neutral, on the left, the right, on this or that candidate. We want more people involved, whoever they may be.
“We want so many attending (and voting on county and state delegates) that our delegate pool will exactly reflect the general (GOP) populous. The more who come to the caucuses, the closer we get” to that goal, he said.
While laudable, such a balancing may not be achievable, as various polling and studies show that county and state delegates historically have been more conservative than the general rank-and-file GOP voters. (And Democratic delegates are more liberal than their voter base, the same polling/studies show.)
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch’s 2012 campaign has been making a great effort to get Hatch supporters to those March 15 meetings. Hatch is clearly concerned about another angry group of state delegates being elected in the caucuses, and what that could mean to him in the April 2012 state GOP convention.
Wright says increasing GOP caucus turnout is not aimed at helping Hatch, nor hurting him, either.
Combine the state parties efforts, the Hatch campaign, the delegate recruitment efforts of other 2012 candidates, and even the LDS Church’s efforts to get citizens involved in March party caucuses, and the stage may well be set for record turnouts of politically-interested Utahns that second week in March.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines is the question of Utah’s unique – and rather closed – system of selecting party nominees.
A group of current and former GOP Utah heavyweights are considering running a citizen initiative petition in 2012 that would provide – if their PIC could get the 100,000 voter signatures required for the ballot, and if citizens approved the new law – for an alternative route to a political party’s primary ballot.
Basically the group, which includes former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt and UPD owner and publisher LaVarr Webb, seeks a way to bypass the caucus/convention process and let a candidate who could get a certain percent of voter signatures (2 percent is what is being talked about now) to get on the primary ballot via that public petition process. Other states current use such a system.
The candidate – whether he got on the primary ballot via a convention vote or by a public petition – who got the most primary votes would be that party’s nominee for that office.
Doubling the number of caucus attendees would, of course, get more people involved in the current caucus/convention process.
In theory, those participating would learn more about the process, and, party leaders hope, see that it isn’t unbalanced or unfair.
In turn, those caucus attendees and those they could persuade would be less favorable to the citizen initiative petition, either refuse to sign it or vote against it should it make the November 2012 general election ballot.
Wright says he strongly defends the current caucus/convention system.
“Don’t look at one cycle” of 2010 “and define our good system by that,” said Wright. Bennett would have lost in a primary even if he’d come out of the state GOP convention, Wright adds.
Utah, with Republicans dominating state institutions, is the best managed state in the nation, and has elected fine, good and true GOP officeholders “for many long years,” said Wright.
In short, the current system works just fine – doubling the number caucus attendees will make it even better -- and should be kept, he said.
Working toward greater caucus attendance is not a reaction to the Leavitt group’s ideas, Wright says, since he promised greater caucus participation when he ran for the party chairmanship last spring, long before the Leavitt group’s ideas became public.