Despite party dominance, Utah GOP officials say they were hamstrung in the 2018 midterms

Any political party leader will want more money, more time and more volunteers to prepare for an election, but Utah State Republican Party chairman Rob Anderson says he and those around him were hamstrung in the 2018 elections – as he didn’t have enough of all three.

Of course, it was an off year for Republicans in Utah compared to some other midterms.

Yes, Mitt Romney won big in the U.S. Senate race.

But down-ticket things didn’t go as well in very red Utah.

U.S. Rep. Mia Love lost in the 4th District – the lion’s share of which is in Salt Lake County.

The county saw huge voter turnout – around 82 percent. That drove county Mayor Ben McAdams’ upset of Love.

The Utah County portion of the 4th District – Love’s home ground, so to speak, since she was mayor of Saratoga Springs – didn’t turn out.

Anderson says there were precincts in Utah County’s part of the 4th District where 300 GOP voters or more just didn’t vote.

“Those were couch Republicans,” says Anderson.

Utah County as a whole saw 67 percent voter turnout, instead of Salt Lake County’s 82 percent.

“Those (Utah County 4th District precincts) alone could have made the difference” in a Love victory, said Anderson.

“With a better (GOP) candidate, a better campaign, we (Republicans) can retake that (4th District) seat in 2020,” said Anderson.

Democrats took two Utah House seats and one Senate seat in Salt Lake County, in an election that also saw Democrats win in the countywide races and defeat GOP County Recorder Adam Gardner.

In short, Democrats did well in Salt Lake County this election cycle.

And Anderson says at the most basic level of party organizing – precinct chairs – the volunteer work fell down.

Anderson said he heard of many potential volunteers trying to contact their GOP precinct chairs and didn’t get a callback.

“This is the area where you need to organize neighborhood meetings, get-out-the-vote efforts. It didn’t happen enough,” he said.

At the state level, the party raised $338,349 from January through the Nov. 6 election. It spent $347,852. And only had $3,226 in cash at the end of the election.

Love, in her campaign, outspent McAdams by $2 million, but in an R+13 GOP district, she still lost by 694 votes.

Years ago, it used to be the state Republican Party gave money to its candidates. But in recent years it’s been the other way around.

Several legislative candidates gave money to the party, which used that cash to help in mailings and other efforts on behalf of the candidates.

The “Gang of 51,” dissident members of the state party’s Central Committee – which have been battling Anderson day-in and day out, trying to get him to resign — certainly didn’t come through themselves with donations to the GOP this year, filings with the Utah Election Office show.

That group’s money-man, Dave Bateman and his Entrata tech company, did give the party $20,000.

But Romney raised more than $5 million for his Senate race, and party filings show he donated just over $10,000 to the state party.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s PAC donated $7,000 in 2018, a non-election year for him, although Herbert did headline some party fundraising events, as well.

Unfortunately, said Anderson, too many legislative and local county GOP candidates “were left alone, even afraid,” this past election cycle by their grassroots party officials, like the precinct chairs.

“That was especially true in Salt Lake County,” he added.

Under the “ideal” structure of the Utah Republican Party, as advocated by caucus supporters, party work starts at the local areas – the March neighborhood caucus meetings, where precinct chairs and county and state delegates are elected.

All builds from there.

But money isn’t flowing from there.

And any number of traditional GOP state donors are not giving to the party because of the battle over Count My Vote and SB54.

Anderson hopes they will return once the SB54/party lawsuit is finally settled before the U.S. Supreme Court.

GOP leaders await the court’s decision, likely coming early next year, whether the Bateman-financed appeal will be heard by the high court – which just recently asked Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to file a response to the party’s appeal from the 10th Circuit Court, which upheld SB54.

Especially in Salt Lake County, said Anderson, GOP candidates have to find a way to appeal to independent voters – get them to the polls and get their votes.

Even though the state GOP didn’t have a good result in Salt Lake County and the 4th District, they still won all the other major races and kept huge majority numbers in the Legislature.

And Republicans did outraise the Democrats statewide.

The latest Utah Democratic Party filings show that party raised $122,913 this year, spent $141,133, and has a debt of $21,482.