Utah Candidates Testing the Electoral Waters Ahead of 2016

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert has steadfastly declined to say whether he will run for another four-year term in 2016, saying he’ll make that decision later but will proceed with fund raising as if he would run.


Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee is already seeking, and getting, endorsements for his 2016 re-election.

Now UtahPolicy is being told by several sources that a local polling firm has been conducting a telephone survey whose questions include match-ups between Herbert and Lee and several GOP politicians that could be considering a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race in 2016.

Those include Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, and House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

Other names on the match-up lists are Josh Romney, Gail Miller (widow of Larry H. Miller) and individuals that are not normally associated with political races, UtahPolicy is told.

“I’m told that (the poll) is of Republican delegates, to test the strength (of the incumbents Herbert and Lee) among them,” said one GOP insider who said he’s spoken with a number of delegates who’ve been contacted by the pollster.

Herbert’s PAC, the Governors Leadership Political Action Committee as of Aug. 31 had $55,500.

And his campaign account at the end of 2012 had $346,807.

In his 2012 re-election Herbert raised $2.1 million and spent nearly $2.5 million.

Four hundred thousand dollars is not a great deal of money for a statewide race, but Herbert would have two years to raise more and he certainly could.

Lee recently held a press conference in Salt Lake City where he was endorsed by the major Tea Party political action committee headquartered in California.

Lee has also given several recent speeches where he seems to be taking a more conciliatory approach to working with fellow Republicans, and even Democrats, in Congress.

Medicaid expansion could be the largest legislative issue of 2014.

And Herbert seems, at least now, to be playing it safe.

He said during last week’s rolling out of his recommended 2014-2015 budget that he would announce his Medicaid expansion decision just before the Legislature convenes Jan. 27.

And the governor said it would be a consensus decision with House GOP leaders.

That includes Lockhart and Hughes, in theory.

Lockhart has already announced that she will retire from the House the end of 2014.

That gives her two years outside of state government to pick issues where she disagrees with Herbert, and time to separate herself from some legislative/gubernatorial actions that disquiet the GOP base.

The speakership can be a powerful platform.

Former Gov. Norm Bangerter ran while he was speaker a successful gubernatorial race in 1984.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is a former House speaker, as were former U.S. Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard Nielson.

However, the speakership certainly is not a guarantee.

Former three-term speaker Marty Stephens lost his gubernatorial bid in 2004, as did former speaker Nolan Karras the same year.

A number of Utah Republicans are hinting they may want to take on Lee in 2016.

Several local polls this year show that Lee could be vulnerable to a challenge from a more moderate Republican.

As reported previously in UtahPolicy, key to 2016 races could be the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition.

If successful in 2014, come 2016 CMV would allow any partisan political candidate to make his or her party’s primary ballot by collecting 2 percent of registered party members’ signatures on a petition.

(UtahPolicy publisher LaVarr Webb is on the CMV board.)

Candidates would not be winnowed down – or win their party’s nomination – in a delegate-driven convention.

Party members would pick nominees in a June primary election.

While Lee and Herbert may do well in a convention, perhaps they would not fair as well in a primary – although Herbert today is better liked among Republicans and the Utah electorate at large than is Lee.

In any case, the current poll rumors indicated that Lee or Herbert seem to be tasting the GOP delegate pool’s political sensibilities more than two years out from their re-election bids.