A year ago there was much talk about how important the June 2012 primaries could be.
Many believed some of our biggest political heavyweights could be fighting for their public lives.
Having had but a little fight two years ago in a special gubernatorial election, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert was supposed to be facing serious Republican challengers this year – as he seeks to win his own four-year term.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, could be in real trouble in June 2012, assuming he even survived the spring state Republican Party convention.
A battle royal between a number of Super PACs in the Hatch race was predicted.
The new 4th Congressional seat – still not drawn in June 2011 – would bring maybe a dozen good GOP candidates and certainly a primary.
Republicans would also be lining up to go after Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in his newly-drawn 2nd Congressional District.
A number of 2nd District Republicans were already declared by June 2011, and they didn’t even know if they would be living in the new district or not.
But today the landscape is very much different.
Herbert eliminated all of his intra-party competition in the GOP state convention. He’s not on Tuesday’s ballot.
Former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist barely survived the convention, with Hatch knocking out all other Republicans in a very strong showing that is carrying over into the primary – where he is the clear favorite.
There’s been little Super PAC influence in the U.S. Senate GOP primary.
Matheson decided to jump from his 2nd District, which he and other Dems believe was drawn by the GOP-controlled Legislature specifically to defeat him this year.
Matheson is running in the new 4th District instead, leaving a bunch of GOP candidates looking for someone to slam as they went into what turned out to be a dysfunctional 2nd District convention race.
After various rumors (some candidates called them lies) were openly spread in the convention, Chris Stewart won the 2nd District nomination outright. There is no GOP 2nd District primary.
Several of the losers have filed a complaint with the FEC and state party chairman Thomas Wright conducted his own investigation into the convention’s foul-ups.
Former state Rep. Carl Wimmer’s 4th District hopes – many believed early on he had the nomination wrapped up – fell apart as delegates fell in love with Mia Love, Saratoga Springs mayor.
Love is turning out to be a very competitive challenger to Matheson. And if elected she would be the first African-American GOP female in the U.S. House’s history.
Oh, and don’t forget, the Utah Republican Party decided not to hold an early presidential primary this year. Tuesday’s vote will determine who state Republicans will back in the national convention coming later this summer.
So, with all that background intrigue, here are my predictions for the primary outcomes:
-- Mitt Romney will be picked by Utah Republicans as their presidential nominee. If I had $1 million and could bet on this outcome, I’d do it. (As would any other sane Utahn.)
There are actually other GOP presidential candidates on the ballot – Rick Santorum, Fred Karger, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich.
Four years ago, Romney, much beloved in this state, a Mormon among friends, won 90 percent of Utah’s primary voters.
I see no reason he won’t get 90 percent again, unless some quasi-Republicans who come into the party primary because of other races vote against him just for the heck of it.
-- Hatch will win re-nomination for a record-setting seventh time. Liljenquist, who started this quest with so much enthusiasm and hope, was just out spent and out organized.
The one debate they had between the two of them – on KSL Radio’s Doug Wright Show, proved a fine effort by Liljenquist.
If he’d had eight debates with Hatch, as he had asked for, he might have closed the gap.
But Dave Hansen, Hatch’s campaign manager, worried about that and just kept Hatch out of any TV debates.
I don’t know how many votes Hatch will get, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it topped 60 percent.
Hatch says if he wins Tuesday and in November, this will be his last six-year term. He’d be 84 when he finally (finally!!) retires in 2018.
-- The GOP attorney general race between John Swallow, current chief deputy in the office, and Sean Reyes has turned to be a very bitter contest, which charges of unethical conduct made against both men.
A mean, and only partly accurate, TV ad being run against Reyes now by a Nevada-based organization whose funding source is suspect, may make the difference for Swallow, who has had his own conduct to explain.
I think Swallow will win. But he’ll have some intra-party fence-mending to do before November.
-- The state auditor race between incumbent Republican Auston Johnson and state Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, has also caused a dust-up – or at least as much as one can dust up a state auditor’s race.
Dougall is not a CPA. Johnson is. But the Utah Constitution doesn’t require that the auditor be a certified public accountant.
If Dougall wins it will finally be shown that someone can come out of the Legislature and take a big office – something not seen since former House Speaker Norm Bangerter won the governorship in 1984.
(Yes, some former legislators, like U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, have won top offices, but they did not hold their legislative posts when they won their federal jobs.)
I predict that Johnson will hold on to his office in a close race. If voters know anything about the two men as they stand in the ballot line, they’ll probably recall that Johnson is a CPA, Dougall isn’t, and it makes sense to elect a CPA to the auditor post.
While only a county race, the GOP contest for Salt Lake County mayor still involves the state’s largest county. Around 40 percent of Utahns live in Salt Lake County.
West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder faces former County Councilman Mark Crockett.
Winder brings good name I.D. to the race and a base in the second-largest city in the state.
But he also has the baggage of Richard Burwash. (I won’t explain all that here. If you are reading UtahPolicy you probably know about the fictitious pen-named Burwash and all the trouble Winder got in over publishing Burwash-byline stories in the Deseret News and on KSL.com.)
I think Winder will take this race, showing that Salt Lake County Republicans are a forgiving bunch.
Other races to watch Tuesday:
-- The 1st Congressional District contest between Democrats Ryan Combe and Donna McAleer for the chance to get slaughtered by Bishop in November.
-- The state House race between Rep. Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley, and Liz Muniz; and the state Senate race between Ty McCarthy and Josie Valdez, both Democrats.
If Muniz and Valdez win, watch for Hispanic Democrats to begin making real headway in state party elective offices.
-- The clear choice between Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, and former Rep. Merrill Nelson in House District 68. Wright is one of the most conservative members of the House – and that’s saying something.
Nelson, of Grantsville, is considered a moderate reformer – who has personally backed a number of government reform issues in the last decade.
I’m told that the newly drawn District 68 has about 60 percent population in Tooele County. For Wright, a former senator and House member representing Utah County, to win he has to turn out GOP conservatives, and make the race more about pure politics than geographic representation.
Finally, please get out and vote – if you haven’t already done so. (State election officials estimate that perhaps 40 percent of the folks who’ll cast primary ballots used either absentee ballots or early voting, only 60 percent actually showing up to the polls Tuesday.)
Republicans hold closed primaries. You have to be a registered Republican to get a GOP ballot. But independents can register as a Republican at the polls Tuesday and vote in the GOP primary.
Democrats hold open primaries, any registered voter can cast a ballot there – although there are no statewide Democratic primary races.
Utah has one of the worst voter turnout records in the nation. No doubt Romney will be a real draw on the November ballot against President Barack Obama.
But in many Utah races the general election is a done deal – the areas are so Republican (or some Democratic, like in Salt Lake City) that whichever candidate wins his party’s nomination Tuesday will be elected in November.
So participate in who your elected officials will be. Vote and be proud of it.