Genius Panelists Weigh in on Primary Election

blue 01This Week’s Question: What did we learn from the primary election?

Sophia DiCaro, state representative. I write this with one caveat. Additional ballots will be counted through July 12th, which may change election night results in a few tight races. Nevertheless, there were a few takeaways from this year’s primary election.

First, we learned that vote-by-mail appears to make a difference with respect to voter turnout. It was reported that this year’s primary had the highest voter turnout in 20 years. Earlier this year, the Salt Lake County Council moved predominantly to vote-by-mail for its constituents. Since most of the state’s voters reside in Salt Lake County, this will undoubtedly have a spillover effect on the state’s overall turnout numbers. I suspect that the vote-by-mail trend will continue, but only time will tell if it continues to translate to voter turnout.

Second, delegate votes did not reflect community-level preferences in the gubernatorial race. With a 72.14% win, Governor Herbert did significantly better with Republican primary voters than he did at the party convention where he received only 44.39% of the delegate votes. However, many of the primary winners from the non-gubernatorial races were also winners from their party convention. Perhaps it is premature to draw any conclusions until we have final numbers. 

Finally, we learned that the Democrat primary voters made history by electing the first transgender candidate of a major political party to run for a U.S. Senate seat. Utahans making history is certainly worthy of a tweet or two. 

W. Val Oveson, former state auditor, lieutenant governor and National Taxpayer Advocate. Things we learned from the primary election:

1)     Don’t run against a popular incumbent Governor.

2)     The Republican Party leaders are out of touch with the silent majority.

3)     Good candidates who have a positive message and work hard can win.

Mark Bouchard, education reformer and Senior Managing Director – Southwest Region, CBRE Utah. We learned that change with thinking and views in Utah, although moderate, continues. Caring citizens continue to be engaged, some running for office and sharing what they believe are solutions and ideas for the future. Not all win; however, they offer ideas for others to consider as we continue to seek a better Utah for all of our citizens.

If there were surprises, one was seeing former Speaker of the House Mel Brown lose his seat. Also State Board Chair Dave Crandall not making it to November. Certainly, education always garners a lot of attention during election periods and this primary was no different.

It’s interesting to observe the back and forth that takes place during these important election periods. We tend to be somewhat critical and suspect of where we are and more importantly where we’re headed. The reality is that compared to most, Utah is and will continue to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.

We also need to take a step back and be grateful for the sacrifices and commitment made by many on our behalf. We are, generally speaking, well-governed and prudent in our approach. Can we be better? Of course we can; however we could also be much worse. 

Nolan Karras, former Utah House speaker, former gubernatorial candidate, and education reformer. I don’t see a huge win for SB54 with the results from Tuesday.  For the most part, the delegates picked winners who went on to win the primary.  The exception would be in the Governor’s race, and Herbert’s big victory will keep the SB54 option alive. I am also not certain the voters cared how one got on the ballot and incumbency and name ID matters more than the route to the ballot.

Now on to the long-term damage Trump will do to the Party.

Larry Lunt, Brigadier General (ret), and former state legislator and state GOP chair. I observed two things:

  • Count My Vote efforts to change the way a relatively few party activists have been able to control who gets on the primary election ballet were very important for a functioning democracy in modern society.  Governor Herbert won by a landslide in the primary yet came in second at the convention.
  • Utah Democrats booed Jonathan Swinton at their convention and then overwhelmingly chose a transgender woman in their primary election.  It seems Utah Democrats are willing to overlook a credible candidate and put forward someone who is unelectable in order to make a statement.

Boyd Matheson, president, Sutherland Institute. The record primary voter turnout was more of a reflection on the voting mechanism (vote by mail) than it was on candidate or party messaging. Both political parties are in danger of ending up on the ash heap of history; neither have given voters, especially younger voters, any reason to align with them or actively join their causes.

If the political parties continue to spend their time and treasure on purity tests and intraparty squabbles, the disruption of our time will force change and give rise to new, nimble, innovative political parties to meet the needs of everyday citizens.

If I were a Democratic strategist I would circle Utah on the map. Not that Utah will turn blue anytime soon, but internal strife and strident voices, combined with the number of citizens who like to at least consider themselves independent, do offer an enormous opportunity to begin changing the political map, starting at the state and local level.

It is also clear that the future of any political party will have little to do with what system is used to select primary contestants and everything to do with whether that party provides ordinary citizens an inviting space and an inspiring place to engage and belong.

Dan Liljenquist, former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate. I am not sure that we learned all that much from the primary election.  For the very first primary election with an alternate path to the ballot, there were no real surprises.  I have read several opinion pieces lambasting the caucus/convention process and the delegates themselves, arguing that because there were significant swings between the convention outcomes and the primary outcomes that the delegates are out of touch.  I don’t see it that way. 

We all know that GOP delegates are, on average, more active and more conservative than rank and file Republicans.  That is not news.  What I found interesting is that not one candidate who took the signature path to the ballot and did not reach 40% at convention won their race.  One might conclude that the caucus/convention system actually did a pretty good job of screening candidates this election cycle.

Frank Pignanelli, attorney, lobbyist, and former Utah House minority leader. The primary clarified what works and doesn’t work for negative advertising in Utah. Personal attacks against the credibility and integrity of someone like Gary Herbert–who is well-liked and trusted–simply do not provide traction against him. This same tactic was utilized in the 2010 election, with the same result. Negative personal criticism against other Utah leaders like Orrin Hatch and Jim Matheson also did not work. However, if the approach is based upon some decision or policy that the candidate has undertaken, then Utahns pay attention. However, campaign operatives cannot help themselves so expect more personal assaults in the future.