Bob Bernick’s notebook: Outside attacks pushed Herbert to endorse Curtis


GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he disagrees with the state Republican Party’s new rule that only sends one candidate out from convention in a special U.S. House election.

“That is not good policy,” Herbert said during his monthly KUED Channel 7 press conference.

Herbert also defended the SB54 compromise, which allowed two of the three GOP 3rd District primary candidates – Provo Mayor John Curtis and businessman Tanner Ainge – to get on the party’s Aug. 15 primary ballot via Republican voter signatures.

Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox adopted the election process for the special U.S. House race. And they specifically set up a process that included the signature-gathering route.

And good for Herbert to do so – for it gives GOP voters a choice beyond arch-conservative Chris Herrod, who came out of the special 3rd District convention with around 55 percent of the delegate vote.

Curtis, who took the dual-route – delegate convention AND signature gathering – was eliminated in mid-round of delegate voting, and would have been out of the race if not for SB54.

Ainge didn’t even appear at the convention, taking only the signature-gathering route.

This week Herbert took the unusual step of endorsing a candidate – Curtis, a longtime friend – before the party picks its nominee.

Usually, top Utah GOP leaders officially stay out of pre-convention or pre-primary endorsements.

But in his news conference Herbert said he decided to do it for two reasons:

First, he really believes Curtis has the temperament and proven ability as mayor running a successful city to do the best job.

But Herbert also confirmed what UtahPolicy has said previously: That Herbert doesn’t like the negative ads being run by supporters of Herrod and Ainge against Curtis – who is the clear leader in the race, two polls by Dan Jones & Associates show.

“It is off-putting, this negative campaigning,” said the governor. “I’m tired of out of state (groups) telling us how to vote, to negatively distort someone’s record.”

Herbert said after seeing actions by supporters of Herrod and Ainge (against Curtis), “I’m disappointed; this is not how Utahns like to see their politics.”

To be fair to Herrod and Ainge, these groups are not associated with their individual campaigns; and following federal law, the two men’s campaigns are not coordinating with these super-PACs’ actions.

Concerning the special U.S. House GOP intra-party rules, in a spring organization state Republican convention, delegates voted new rules on just a House replacement race.

Usually, if a candidate gets 60 percent or more of the delegate vote, he or she is automatically the party’s nominee, and there is no primary election in that race.

If no one gets 60 percent, the top two vote-getters advance to the primary.

But in that state convention, delegates voted to adopt a different standard in U.S. House special elections: There will be run off rounds of balloting until one candidate gets 50-percent-plus-one of the delegate votes, and is the party’s convention nominee. All other convention candidates are eliminated.

The last round of delegate voting eliminated state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, who while conservative is not as right-wing as Herrod, who served several terms in the Utah House, leaving six years ago.

As of now, the traditional 60-percent convention rule still applies to other state GOP races.

But in the future, the state delegates could change that rule, and so only one candidate would come out of the convention.

That would actually force more GOP candidates to take the signature-gathering route to the primary, for they may not want to risk their candidacy on just winning the convention vote outright.

Herbert took both routes in his 2016 re-election – and gathered the 28,000 GOP signatures statewide to ensure he’d make the Republican primary ballot.

But the governor did finish second to Johnson in the convention with over 40 percent of the vote, so he actually made the primary (where he slaughtered Johnson) both ways, with signatures and with delegate votes.

One reason Herbert may have finished second in the convention is that he angered some delegates by taking the signature route, and Herbert signed SB54 into law.

The state GOP is on the hook for $300,000 in legal fees after challenging, and losing, several court battles over SB54.

In any case, Herbert has had a running battle with some right-wing members of the Utah GOP ever since.

“The system is best” if two convention candidates, who don’t reach the 60 percent level, “can go into a runoff” primary election, said Herbert.

(Editor’s note: A previous version of this column claimed that the Club for Growth ran ads against Gov. Gary Herbert during the 2016 GOP gubernatorial primary. We regret the error.)