By far most Utah rank-and-file Republicans do not want their party leaders to endorse GOP candidates before the closed Republican primary election on June 28, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.
But GOP state chairman James Evans announced at the April state party convention that such an idea should be considered by the party’s governing Central Committee at a June 4 meeting.
Dan Jones & Associates new survey for UtahPolicy finds that 64 percent of those who self-identified as Republicans don’t want their party endorsing primary candidates.
Only 26 percent – or a fourth – favor such endorsements, and 10 percent don’t know.
The GOP Central Committee is about 180 party loyalists elected to their governing committee by the 4,000 or so state party delegates.
Evans told UtahPolicy at the convention that it makes sense to at least consider giving party primary endorsements – and party resources, including money – to candidates who in their convention got at least 40 percent of the delegate vote.
The new candidate primary route law – SB54 – allows candidates to reach their party’s primary ballots by getting a set number of signatures of registered party voters.
If the candidates get that number, they are automatically certified to the primary ballot. Such candidates can bypass their party convention delegates altogether, or can go before the delegates if they choose. But in the later case, delegates can’t kick them off of the primary ballot.
The law has been upheld in Utah federal court and by the Utah Supreme Court – and GOP leaders are considering appealing the federal court decision.
At one point, GOP leaders considered kicking signature-gathering candidates out of the party, but a ruling by Federal Judge David Nuffer said they couldn’t do that.
But Nuffer said party leaders could endorse any candidate they wish.
However, current state party bylaws demand that leaders remain candidate neutral until a nominee is picked – either by getting 60 percent of the convention delegate vote or winning the primary election.
And since party bylaws say candidates can only advance to a primary by getting at least 40 percent of their convention delegate votes, it follows – party leaders say – that any candidate who doesn’t get 40 percent of the convention (but is still on the primary ballot via signatures gathering) is not really a GOP candidate – and the party can endorse and aid a primary candidate who successfully went through convention.
The other side of that coin is that party officials could actively OPPOSE any signature candidate who didn’t get 40 percent of the convention vote.
In fact, the Utah County Republican Party is doing just that in county GOP races and legislative districts wholly within county boundaries.
Now the state GOP will decide in the June 4 CC meeting whether it will endorse successful convention Republican candidates before the primary – candidates running in federal, statewide and multi-county legislative races.
One race affected by the CC decision is in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, got more than 60 percent of the delegate vote.
Intra-party challenger Chia-Chi Teng failed to get 40 percent of the convention delegate vote. But Teng is certified to the primary ballot by successfully gathering the 7,000 GOP voter signatures required.
Thus, the state GOP could end up endorsing Chaffetz before the primary election, giving him voter lists, help in walking his district, even money, if the CC so decides.
The party could also actively oppose Teng, put up billboards against him, send out mailers, etc.
In his latest survey Jones finds:
— That among all Utahns, 71 percent oppose the state GOP from endorsing candidates before primary voters have their say.
— 19 percent say the party should endorse a candidate or two in a GOP primary race, and 10 percent don’t know.
Utah Republicans hold closed primaries – you must be a registered Republican to cast a primary ballot.
But under Utah law, an independent voter can register as a Republican on primary Election Day and cast a GOP ballot.
Thus, it does matter, somewhat, what unaffiliated – or politically independent – voters think about primary GOP endorsements.
— Among political independents, three-fourths (75 percent) say the Utah state GOP should not endorse candidates before the primary election picks a party nominee.
— 13 percent believe the party should, and 10 percent don’t know.
Registered Democrats can’t vote in a GOP primary, and they can’t change their registration from Democrat to Republican on primary Election Day. They can change their party affiliation weeks before primary voting.
Jones finds that 85 percent of Utah Democrats don’t want the state GOP endorsing primary candidates, 10 percent favor the idea, and 5 percent don’t know.
It is well documented that those who consider themselves “very conservative” have enhanced influence in the running of the Utah Republican Party – as more GOP delegates rank themselves as “very conservative” than do the party, rank-and-file voters.
Still, Jones finds that 58 percent of those who say they are “very conservative” don’t want the Utah State Republican Party endorsing party candidates before the primary election.
Thirty-percent of the “very conservative” favor such party endorsements and 11 percent don’t know.
Finally, most Republicans are faithful Mormons. Jones finds that 76 percent of “very active” Mormons don’t want Utah’s majority party endorsing in the primary elections, 11 percent of faithful Mormons do, and 12 percent don’t know.
Evans, in his speech before the state convention, asked the rhetorical question whether a candidate who violates state party internal rules – which say the only way to get the party nomination is to go through convention and get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote – should be able to win the party’s nomination in the primary.
Or should the party have something to say about that, like endorsing a convention candidate over a signature candidate who made the primary ballot, but didn’t get at least 40 percent of the convention vote.
Evans said he thought that was a reasonable thing for the party to have a say on.
But it will be up to the Central Committee – which can change the current primary no-endorsement bylaw without delegate approval – to make that final decision.
The CC meeting is at 10 a.m. June 4 in the Utah Association of Realtors headquarters, 230 W. Towne Ridge Parkway, Sandy. The meeting is open to the public.
Jones polled 588 adults from May 2-10. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.04 percent.