Poll: Half of GOP Delegates Support Blocking Candidates Who Take Signature Route from Running as Republicans

Voting BoothA new UtahPolicy poll of state Republican Party delegates finds a mixed response to candidates who are gathering voter signatures to make the June primary ballot:

44 percent of the delegates surveyed by Dan Jones & Associates say they are less likely to vote for a signature candidate appearing in convention than they are for a candidate appealing only to convention delegates.

But 48 percent say whether a candidate takes the signature or the convention route makes no difference to them; 4 percent don’t know. 

If you shun me, 44 percent of the delegates seem to be saying, you face the consequences.

That choice for candidates – Do I gather signatures and assure myself a ballot appearance, or do I throw all my chances before delegates? – is now playing out, even as GOP lawmakers are trying to balance their legislative work with their re-election campaign strategies.

Utah’s lieutenant governor has suggested that candidates can take both paths to assure a place on the ballot.

You won’t find a Republican candidate – from GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who is gathering signatures, to the freshman House legislator – who won’t praise the delegate/caucus/convention process.

But the poll finds that for nearly half the current GOP delegates, actions speak louder than words.

So far, 104 candidates, the lion’s share being Republicans, have signed up with the Utah Elections Office to gather signatures this year under the new dual route law, SB54.

We don’t yet know how many officeholders will take only the delegate/convention route since they don’t file until mid-March.

Jones finds little sympathy for officeholder Republicans who defy the party’s grassroots backbone – the 4,000 state delegates chosen in March 22 neighborhood party caucuses.

For example:

  • 50 percent of delegates say it would be OK by them if party leaders kicked signature-gathering candidates out of the party and refused to allow them to run as Republicans in the upcoming election.
  • 43 percent of delegates don’t support such ouster and 6 percent of the delegates didn’t know. 

That hardline doesn’t extend to registered voters who sign candidate petitions, however.

Jones finds that 79 percent of delegates would oppose kicking those petition-signers out of the party; only 13 percent favor such a harsh action, and 8 percent don’t know. 

  • 69 percent of delegates say the individual voter himself should be able to decide to be in the GOP or not.
  • 22 percent said party leaders should be able to decide who should be in their party – or decide who to kick out of the party for bylaw violations – while 9 percent didn’t know.

Finally – and this is an interesting finding – a third of GOP delegates said they wish to keep their party “ideologically pure,” and that so-called Republicans who don’t believe in the party platform or traditional values should not be allowed to join.

  • 58 percent of delegates said that is wrong, and that the Utah Republican Party needs to be more diverse and welcoming.

These are all a lot of delegate feelings to absorb.

And they show two sides of the Utah Republican Party – welcoming and understanding, or hard-liners who want party doctrine maintained and enforced.

Utah GOP chairman James Evans told UtahPolicy on Monday that he has no intention to advocate that any signature-gathering candidate – who does not also go through convention – be kicked out of the party.

Likewise, Evans denies there is a plot to punish GOP voters who sign candidates’ petitions.

But at the same time, the party has said it has powers over its membership rolls – and so that leaves open the question of some punishment/expulsion – should the party’s Central Committee, a group of Republicans who run party operations, makes those calls.

The Utah County Republican Party recently decided to expand a process of scrutinizing GOP candidates.

“Morality” is one of the criteria – generally defined in the bylaw. But it has led some GOP lawmakers – even those from Utah County – to worry what could lie ahead.

One staunch GOP officeholder – asking that his name not be used – told UtahPolicy he reads that “morality” clause to mean some kind of a religious test.

Utah County as a whole, and the county’s Republican Party specifically, is overwhelming LDS.

This official wondered if the clause could mean someone could be kicked out of the county party, and a candidate not allowed to run as a Republican, for accepting same-sex marriage and/or some other legal/moral issue.

Evans says the Utah County Republican Party stands alone and can have its own bylaws. Anyway, Evans adds, the “morality” clause for candidates has been there for more than a dozen years – just not enforced as some today fear it may be.

Jones polled 605 state Republican Party delegates from Jan. 13-16. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.67.