The 2012 election season started for real Tuesday night when Utah’s minority party – the Democratic Party – held its caucuses across the state.
Formally called “mass meetings,” the March party caucus is where loyal rank-and-file party members gather in geographic locations to vote in new county and state delegates, who will meet in April conventions to vote on party candidates.
Democrats were wondering for months who may run in the 2nd Congressional District now that U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah – while living and serving in the old 2nd District for a decade – decided this year to run in the new 4th Congressional District.
In the last several days, finally, two Democrats filed for the 2nd District race – former one-term Utah House Rep. Jay Seegmiller (who lives in Sandy) and long-time Washington County Democrat Mike Small.
If one of them gets 60 percent of the state convention 2nd District vote, he’s the nominee. If not, the top two vote-getters will go to an open June Democratic primary ballot.
It’s a bit ironic, or perhaps the political reality of the redrawn 2nd District, that state Democrats couldn’t get a big-name candidate to run in Matheson old seat.
(UtahPolicy has learned that two sons of the late U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens, who held the 2nd District at two different times, considered the race, but each decided not to run this year.)
The ultimate Democratic nominee will face one of the 10 (more could file by Thursday) Republican candidates – one of the largest GOP congressional fields ever.
Republicans hold their party caucuses 7 p.m. Thursday. You can find your GOP meeting locations at: vote.utah.gov, the state Elections Office web site.
Even though the candidate filing deadline isn’t until 5 p.m. Thursday, state Democratic leaders decided months ago to hold their caucus night on the traditional second Tuesday in March.
Historically, both the Democrats and Republicans met on the same caucus nights.
However, new federal election rules pushed the candidate filing deadlines in many states to new dates.
GOP Utah leaders decided it didn’t make much sense to hold their caucus meetings before the candidate filing deadline (even though the GOP meetings begin just two hours after the deadline.)
Democrats argued, however, that sticking with the traditional Tuesday caucus night would best serve their party members.
Besides, Democratic party chairman Jim Dabakis previously told UtahPolicy, if there is no Democratic candidate signed up in local or legislative races by March 13, that candidate hole can be pointed out at the caucus meeting, giving two more days for local Democrats to draft/convince a party colleague to file for the open office.
Thus, said Dabakis, the early caucus meeting can actually serve as a candidate recruiting effort.
Democrats also used their Tuesday night meetings as a caucus presidential primary.
Of course, President Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate this year.
UtahPolicy attended a Democratic caucus held in the state Capitol cafeteria.
State Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, represents the area, as does Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake. Both attended the meeting, as did Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon (who is retiring from office this year) and U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ashdown (who ran for the office in 2006.)
McAdams and Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, are both running this year for county mayor.
Chavez-Houck said perhaps 200 Democrats showed up for the 2010 and 2008 caucus meetings. The door count Tuesday was 450, with perhaps a few more coming in late.
Not expecting such a turnout, there weren’t enough chairs, with around 50 people having to stand.
“This is a great turnout,” said Chavez-Houck. Some of the added numbers may come, she said, because through redistricting her legislative district now runs into the Federal Heights and University of Utah areas. There appeared to be a number of younger folks – perhaps college students – in the meeting.
“There is also a great interest in the county mayor’s race, with both Ben and Ross running,” said Chavez-Houck.
Indeed, UtahPolicy listened in to several precincts’ delegate speeches, and participants were asking the potential delegates whether they supported McAdams or Romero in that intraparty contest.
Chavez-Houck said that while her district’s turnout packed the room, “there are other places” in the state where Tuesday’s Democratic caucuses would no doubt be less well attended.
She asked those attending to pick a less Democratic area and walk that district with the party’s nominee.
Lisa Allcott, legislative district chair, said while in the past she has been able to nominate some delegate slots that weren’t filled in the caucus meeting, “I don’t see that happening tonight – all the slots should be filled by the individual precinct votes.”
Corroon, who lost the governor’s race in 2010, said it is important that Democrats hold the county mayor’s seat this year.
In the 2010 GOP sweep in Utah, Democrats lost control of the Salt Lake County Council.
If Republicans take the mayor’s seat, the state’s largest county will have gone from Democratic control to Republican control in just two elections.