Bob Bernick’s notebook: Musings on the upcoming primary elections

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We’re coming down to the homestretch in four really interesting Republican primary races — governor, attorney general, 1st Congressional District and 4th Congressional District.

Turnout will be key in all four — although it does appear that Attorney General Sean Reyes has an insurmountable lead over challenger David Leavitt, the Utah County attorney.

The AG’s race is interesting not because of close polling, but the animosity both men seem to have for each other. If possible, readers should take the time to watch or listen to the Utah Debate Commission’s AG event here.

In fact, you should watch or listen to all four commission debates on that website.

Only the governor’s debate was in prime time, and even with stay home, stay safe keeping many folks in their houses, they could have been working online or doing other things, and viewing these debates would be informative for all voters.

That’s because, in the AG, governor and 1st District, the Republicans who win in the June 30 primary election will almost assuredly be elected in November.

Not the case in the 4th District, where polling shows incumbent Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams, D-UT, is well-positioned to win re-election.

Not guaranteed, for sure. But McAdams is looking good right now — his job approval one of the highest in the state.

Now, a few observations I have on the four GOP primaries:

— McAdams should be drooling over the possibility that 4th District Republicans will pick Burgess Owens as their candidate to challenge McAdams.

Owens’ debate performance was a bit bizarre — he kept talking about fighting against “socialists and Marxists,” both in Utah and the Democrats in the U.S. House.

Where is this coming from? Is it even rational?

Owens — as do several other GOP 4th District candidates — are hugging Trump like he’s a favorite child.

Our last Y2 Analytics poll shows Owens with 36 percent support, Jay McFarland at 28 percent, state Rep. Kim Coleman at 23 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, and Trent Christensen at 13 percent.

Since there is no “don’t know” vote on the ballot, Y2 doesn’t give that option on the poll, thus better-reflecting voter preference at the time of the survey, taken May 9-15. The margin of error is high, plus or minus 8.1 percent.

So we can say the 4th District race is up in the air — although it is always better to be leading in a race than coming in last.

Trump is not popular in the 4th District among all voters. Y2 finds 56 percent of 4th District voters “strongly” or “somewhat” disapprove of Trump, with 49 percent “strongly” disapproving of the president.

A Trump-loving GOP candidate in the 4th facing McAdams, who voted in the House to impeach the president — well, the numbers don’t look good, nor does it make sense for whomever the GOP nominee is in that district to keep on strongly supporting Trump.

The GOP nominee certainly wouldn’t want Trump in town, holding rallies and expecting the nominee to stand hand-in-hand. That’s just alienating 56 percent of the voters in your district — doing that is a good way to lose in November.

— Not so in the 1st District. There 51 percent of the voters like the job Trump is doing as president, with 29 percent “strongly” approving of Trump.

Still, even in that GOP stronghold, 49 percent disapprove of the president. So the ultimate GOP nominee there would be wise to keep away from the president, as well.

However, since Utah’s 1st District hasn’t been in Democratic hands since the early 1980s, whomever the Democratic nominee is (also to be decided June 30) has little chance of winning in November.

— Finally, the governor’s race.

This one is tough for me to read right now.

Yes, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox is ahead in the last Y2 poll, getting 39 percent support among those who said it is likely they will vote in the GOP primary.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman comes in second, with 32 percent support.

Followed by former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes at 23 percent support, and then former Utah state GOP chairman Thomas Wright at 6 percent.

But among those who “lean” Republican, but may not belong to the party, Huntsman does much better than the other three, Y2 finds. And the Huntsman campaign is clearly asking Republican-voting independents to sign up with the Republican Party, via their county clerks, get a GOP ballot and vote for Huntsman. We’ll see after the primary how many may have switched their party affiliation.

As you may have heard, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who supports Cox, recently asked Wright to get out of the race and endorse Cox. Wright refused.

Such a move — Cox obviously knew what Herbert was doing — could have some impact on the vote. But who knows how much?

Herbert is moving Utah to “green” on the coronavirus-fighting scale — and it likely will be at that “open” level by June 30.

That should help Cox, whom Herbert has put in charge of the state’s virus-fighting effort.

And now reports that independent State Auditor John Dougall won’t have his report finished before June 30, which will look at the Herbert/Cox administration’s spending of $90 million in virus-fighting programs — which likely is a good thing for Cox. Better no report than one that shows any problems in the rapid-fire virus spending.

Even if most of the report clears Herbert/Cox of any improprieties, you could count on Wright/Huntsman/Hughes jumping on anything negative in the report.

The ballots in the all-mail-in primary will start hitting households next week. So some votes could be cast soon in these critical four GOP contests.

You have to be a registered Republican to get a GOP ballot. You have until June 19 to change your party status with your local county clerk — if you are not already registered GOP. You can check your status at