Bob Bernick’s Notebook: 51 Percent of Republicans Think GOP Chair James Evans Should be Re-elected

Considering all the public problems he’s had recently, Utah State Republican Party Chairman James Evans is not in that much trouble among his party’s rank-and-file, a new poll shows.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds that 51 percent of those who told Jones they are Republicans said Evans should “definitely” or “probably” be re-elected this summer to another two-year term as head of the state’s largest political party.

However, only 36 percent of Republicans said they have a favorable impression of Evans – who has been in the news over the last few months for his opposition to SB54, the 2014 law that seeks a compromise between the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition and the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Meanwhile, in his monthly KUED TV Channel 7 press conference, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert – the titular head of the state’s GOP – said he is not yet ready to endorse anyone for his party’s chairmanship.

Herbert said he doesn’t think much of the idea that GOP candidates who use the petition route to get on the ballot would have to pay their party a fee to be interviewed by a select party committee.

But Herbert did say he sees nothing wrong with all GOP candidates being asked to make a statement on the party platform in order to weed out any candidates who may not really be Republicans.

Herbert signed SB54. And the state is now defending a Utah Republican Party lawsuit in federal court challenging the new law’s constitutionality.

While Evans – using traditional candidate yardsticks – may not be in too much trouble among his party voters, his showing among Republicans really suffers when compared with that of his Democratic Party counter-part – Democratic chairman Peter Corroon.

Among Democrats, Corroon is much loved. Corroon also will seek re-election as chairman later this year in his party’s state convention.

Jones found that 79 percent of Democratic voters “definitely” or “probably” want Corroon re-elected as chairman.

And 72 percent have a favorable opinion of the job Corroon is doing.

Those numbers compare to Evans’ 51 percent re-elect numbers and 36 percent favorability rating for Evans among his own party members.

Here are the raw numbers for Evans:

— Among all voters: 38 percent say Evans should be re-elected as chairman, 32 percent said don’t re-elect, 29 percent had no opinion.

— Among Republicans (of course, the important subset): 51 percent said re-elect, 22 percent said don’t re-elect, and 27 percent didn’t know.

It doesn’t matter what Democrats think of Evans. But it does, in theory, matter what political independents think because Utah GOP leaders want to woo those votes.

— Jones found that among independents 31 percent Evans should be re-elected as party chair, 40 percent said don’t re-elect, and 30 percent didn’t know.

Here are the raw numbers for Corroon:

— Among all voters: 49 percent said the former Salt Lake County mayor should be re-elected party chair, 27 percent said don’t re-elect, and 24 percent didn’t know.

— Among Democrat voters (of course, the most important subset): 79 percent said re-elect, 10 percent said don’t re-elect and 12 percent didn’t know.

— Among independent voters: 54 percent said re-elect, 25 percent said don’t re-elect, and 20 percent didn’t know.

Twice as many Republicans said Evans should not be re-elected than Democrats thought Corroon shouldn’t be re-elected.

Jones polled 803 registered voters May 5-12, and the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.

No Democrat has come forward yet to say they may run against Corroon.

UtahPolicy reported recently that former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist is “seriously considering” running against Evans.

You can read that story here.

Thursday, asked to choose between Evans and Liljenquist, Herbert declined to say.

But the governor said besides Liljenquist, “two or three” more Republicans may enter the chairmanship race.

Historically, the top incumbent officeholders seeking re-election in the next cycle weigh in on their own party’s chairmanship race.

It’s even been the case that a top officeholder basically handpicks the party chair in the officeholder’s election cycle.

At the very least, the delegates – who actually vote the new chair in – listen to the wishes of their top incumbents.

That’s because the incumbents will raise a lot of campaign money, will often run their own turn-out-the-vote efforts – in coordination with their party’s – and if the top party officeholders do well with voters, their coattails really help down-ballot party candidates, like state legislative and county party candidates.

Herbert went on at some length in his press conference about how the Utah GOP needs to stop their internal disagreements over SB54, and the chairman has a responsibility in that area.

This past week The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Evans says it is time for party leaders and delegates to move toward changing party rules to accommodate SB54 – even though it is well known Evans hates the new candidate selection law.

In short, Evans says his party must move toward becoming a Qualified Political Party under SB54 – which will then allow at least some candidates to choose the caucus/delegate/convention route to their party’s primary ballot.

“I am a Republican,” said Herbert when asked by UtahPolicy if his party should interview candidates via a “truth commission,” and whether it is appropriate to have some kind of loyalty test, or candidates pay upwards of $10,000 to provide funds for petition-route candidates’ party screening and information efforts.

“I don’t know if we need some kind of purity” test, said the governor.

But he does see the need for all candidates to give their opinion of the party platform, and where they may differ from it.

“I’ve given much more than $10,000” to the state GOP over the years, Herbert noted with a slight smile.

“So that (the fee) may not bother me” – Herbert spent around $2 million in his last campaign, so $10,000 is not much to his campaign war chest.

“But it is not a good policy to pay a fee” to get on a party’s ballot, he added.

“We should not go down that pathway.”

(While some GOP leaders complain the media are playing this idea out of proportion, in a survey Evans recently sent to GOP caucus-goers, delegates and officeholders, the fee idea/Truth Commission is asked, so still on the table.)

Herbert said: “We’ve all heard the term RINO – Republican in Name Only.”

Some Democrats, believing they can’t win office in that party, may run as a “moderate Republican,” said Herbert.

And there seems to be some libertarians who believe they can’t win office in that party, deciding to be a “conservative” and run as a Republican.

So, said the governor, there is nothing wrong with his party leaders asking candidates who file as a Republican to take a stand on the GOP platform and other party ideals.

Still, Republicans should we welcoming.

Said Herbert: “I don’t know about a purity test. If you agree with me 80 percent of the time, you’re my friend.”