Not only did Utah Republicans show up at their party caucuses last week in record numbers, they elected new state delegates as well.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday that only 13 percent of the 4,000 state GOP delegates were the same as the 2010 GOP slate of 3,500 delegates. (The state GOP decided to add 500 additional delegates this year.)
Dave Hansen, campaign manager for Sen. Orrin Hatch, said he’s done a poll of the 4,000 new delegates and finds the Trib’s numbers a big low.
“We think it is closer to 20 percent of the new delegates were also delegates” in 2010, Hansen told UtahPolicy.
But whether 13 percent or 20 percent, that is the lowest number of returning state delegates in memory, said Hansen, who has worked in Utah and national Republican politics all his adult life and served as GOP state chairman in 2009 and 2010.
“One thing that may be even more impressive,” said Hansen, “is that half of these new delegates have never been a delegate before. I don’t know the exact numbers of new delegates in the past, but certainly it has never been that high ever.
“Half are new delegates -- that amazing.”
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, says the flood of new state GOP delegates means that the April 21 state convention will be more open-mined and less angry than the 2010 convention – in which Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, was removed from office.
The high caucus turnout combined with new delegates in both the Democratic and Republican parties “is fantastic news,” says Jowers.
“Our (caucus/convention) system allows for such a small percentage of citizens to meaningfully participate in the (candidate nomination) process, the more turnover in delegates the better increases in citizen participation,” said Jowers.
He said that the Hinckley Institute and the Utah Foundation will again this year poll both general GOP and Democratic citizens and the individual party delegates on a number of issues and then compare the results.
In 2010, said Jowers, there was a real disconnect between the GOP delegates and the Republican voting base.
For example, he recalled, public education was the top issue among Utah Republicans, but didn’t even make the top 10 list among the GOP delegates.
The delegates put U.S. participation in the United Nations in the top issues, while Utah Republicans in general didn’t care about that at all, said Jowers.
“The 2010 (GOP) delegates didn’t represent the feelings of Republican voters at all.” Jowers is hoping for better representation among the new 2012 batch.
“I think a large turnover in delegates is good for both political parties, especially for the Republicans,” he said.
But both Hansen and Jowers said while the GOP delegate turnover is good for Republican incumbents, it doesn’t mean GOP officeholders can take their re-elections for granted.
“Incumbents always have to worry about the general dissatisfaction with government,” said Jowers.
But with only five weeks between the caucus election of delegates and the county and state conventions where the delegates will be voting on candidates, the fact that the 2012 delegates may be more moderate and open-minded should help incumbents, he added.
“I found the 2010 delegates were angry and wanted revenge,” said Jowers, noting that the 2010 caucus meetings came just days after Obamacare passed Congress.
“Those caucuses had folks who attended for a certain reason. I think the 2012 caucuses had more representative participation, more thoughtful people willing to listen to all comers” in the upcoming elections.
“We think there will be a more moderate tone to the (2012) delegates,” said Hansen.
Having 50 percent of new delegates means that GOP chairman Thomas Wright and his convention staff will have to be more patient. “There is a learning curve” for the new delegates, said Hansen, who conducted the raucous 2010 convention.
(Wright didn’t return telephone calls for comment.)
“But there is going to be a lot of excitement, less cynicism at this convention,” said Hansen. “Delegates we’re talking to are excited to attend and participate.”
Jowers, who is an advocate for adding an alternative route to the party primary ballots via petition, says while the massive turnout at the caucus meetings and new delegate pool is great for Utah politics, the fundamental flaws (as he sees them) in the current caucus/convention system still remain.
The 2010 “angry” GOP delegate pool may be gone this time around, but that occurrence “carried over into all sorts of Utah political levels.”