The battle to get on the GOP ballot to replace Chaffetz is heating up quickly

This may sound odd, but just days into a special election campaign in the 3rd Congressional District two of the current state legislators who have already filed can’t win.

And a first-time candidate with a famous Utah last name is assured a primary ballot slot – if he can find 7,000 Republican friends in 20 days.

As of Tuesday morning, six candidates have officially filed with the state Elections Office to run to replace U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who promises to resign his seat June 30.

At least another half a dozen are talking about running, or have said publicly they will – they just haven’t paid their $285 and filed yet.

One new candidate has a famous last name – Ainge.

That’s right, Tanner Ainge, the 33-year-old son of BYU basketball and NBA star Danny Ainge – now the top executive at the Boston Celtics – has signed up to run as a Republican.

Tanner (referred to as just Ainge for the rest of this article) filed to run using ONLY the signature-gathering route.

That means if Ainge can get 7,000 signatures of registered Republican voters in the 3rd District, under SB54 he automatically gets on the Aug. 15 Republican primary ballot.

If he doesn’t get the 7,000 signatures, he’s out of the race. He has to turn in his petitions by noon on June 12 – giving him (and all other signature-gathers) just under three weeks to get their job done.

Two Democratic candidates in the heavily-Republican district have filed to both gather signatures AND appear before Democratic 3rd District state delegates in an upcoming special party convention.

They are Carl Ingwell and Ben Frank. Under SB54, if they each get 7,000 signatures of registered Democrats – a harder lift in the 3rd District – then they go to the Aug. 15 party primary. Or they can get at least 40 percent of the upcoming Democratic delegate convention and make the primary.

And three GOP state legislators – Sens. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork; and Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem – have signed up ONLY to run via the delegate/convention route.

The Utah GOP passed a resolution at Saturday’s convention so that only one candidate will advance to a possible primary with a simple majority vote by delegates. That means two of those three will be out following the June 17 Republican Party 3rd District delegate gathering.

Since this is a mid-term special election, any current officeholders don’t risk their legislative seats – if they lose this congressional race they are still in the Legislature.

Outgoing state GOP state bosses (both chairman James Evans and vice-chairman Phil Wright lost their chairmanship races last Saturday in the regular, off-election year state convention) announced the June 17 convention date last weekend.

So those three legislators, and any other GOP candidates who may file soon to run in the convention have 24 days to woo slightly more than 1,000 3rd District delegates.

They will need to find a few more than 500 votes to punch their ticket to the August primary or special election in November.

But Ainge is skipping that whole party convention thing.

He doesn’t even have to show up at the convention at Timpview High School, and he likely wouldn’t be given a speaking slot even if he did – since delegates don’t vote for him.

Rob Anderson is the new Utah Republican Party chairman, taking office in Saturday’s state GOP convention vote.

How he and the newly-elected, 180-member state Central Committee will handle this time-truncated special election will be exciting to watch.

Several county GOP organizations last year took the unusual position of actually OPPOSING any GOP candidate who got on the county party ballot without at least getting 40 percent of their convention vote.

The state GOP didn’t take that stand. And with Anderson’s let’s-get-along-with-SB54 stance, perhaps the state Central Committee won’t oppose Ainge or any other signature-only GOP candidates this year.

Anti-SB54 Utah House members had a bill last session that would have outlawed paid signature gathering – you could only use volunteers.

But since money equals political free speech – the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled – that bill likely would have been unconstitutional. It died, anyway.

Various sources tell UtahPolicy it may cost between $2,000 and $3,000 to pay folks to get the 7,000 voter signatures – a rather small price if it ensures you a place on the Aug. 15 primary ballot.

So, the next few weeks will be busy ones for 3rd District candidates in both major political parties.

Then there is a bit of a breather before the Aug. 15 party primary elections – which, by the way, will also be the primary elections for non-partisan city and town mayoral and council races this year.