Anger as SLCO GOP Endorses Fillmore over Cunningham in Senate Primary

republican2First, it was the Utah County Republican Party taking sides in party primary races this spring, now it is the Salt Lake County Republican Party.

An email from the Salt Lake Republicans went out this week saying Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, who got 60.12 percent in the county GOP convention race against incumbent Rep. Rich Cunningham, who got 39.88 percent in the convention, is the official party nominee. Sixty percent wins in convention.

But Cunningham is certified to the June 28 primary ballot via the SB54 route because he successfully gathered the 2,000 GOP voter signatures in Senate District 10.

“I lost by a single (delegate) vote in convention,” Cunningham told UtahPolicy on Monday, and he can’t believe that his own party “is now going against me – many people are really angry over this.”

Yes, the Salt Lake County GOP is taking sides in primary races, following the lead of Utah County Republicans who also have come out in favor of several candidates who reached the 60 percent convention threshold over candidates who are on the ballot because of signature-gathering and SB54 – the 2014 compromise law that allows candidates to reach a primary by gathering voter signatures, winning at a party convention, or taking both routes at the same time.

Salt Lake County chairwoman Suzanne Mulet, via a text message, said that the county email restates what the obvious is – that Fillmore won the convention and “IS our official candidate.”

The email is not an endorsement of Fillmore, said Mulet, although Cunningham disagrees and says it is, of course, a Fillmore endorsement by the party.

The email says the party is “proud to support our official party nominee” – Fillmore.

“Fillmore won the convention, a plain fact,” wrote Mulet. “It doesn’t mean that Rich isn’t a Republican, nor has anyone revoked his Republican Party card.”

Mulet says she said from the convention podium that Fillmore is the official candidate. “By our bylaws the person who exits the convention is our official candidate. There literally is “nothing to see here,” she wrote.

You can read the party email below. 

20160525 GOP Letter

Cunningham told UtahPolicy Wednesday that since the county party’s email went out (he believes to between 6,000 and 8,000 registered Republicans in Senate District 10), “I’ve had all kinds of emails and phone calls – people are really pissed off” by the party’s “bullshit” stand in his challenge to Fillmore.

Cunningham claims the party’s action is illegal, for current party bylaws say the party will remain neutral until a nominee is picked – and because he got the required number of signatures that decision won’t be made until District 10 voters speak June 28.

The State Republican Party will discuss taking sides on federal, statewide and multi-county legislative races in a June 4 Central Committee meeting.

But so far, the state party is not endorsing in primary races where one candidate gets on the ballot via SB54, while the other candidate got more than 60 percent of the delegate vote in the April state GOP convention.

In any case, a new UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 64 percent of GOP voters statewide DON’T want their party – at the county or state level – to endorse candidates before GOP voters speaking in the primary election.

Only 26 percent of Republican rank-and-file favor pre-primary party endorsements.

Cunningham said he’s sending out his own 6,000-delivery email today, telling Senate 10 Republicans that he’s not well-liked by his own party apparatus because he doesn’t follow what the party bosses want. A copy of that email is below.

20160525 Cunningham Letter

Cunningham says what’s really frustrating for him is that he voted against SB54 in the 2014 Legislature – he didn’t like the way the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition gathers were “deceiving” those into signing the petitions.

But, said Cunningham, following the example set this election year by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, he decided to gather signatures because of the uncertainty involved in the state GOP’s court challenges to SB54 and other factors.

It is ironic, says Cunningham, that Fillmore signed up to gather signatures – and is now bashing him for doing it.

“He couldn’t get them. I could.”

It is true that Fillmore checked the candidate registration box saying he was going to go both the signature and convention routes, but it is also the case that Fillmore never submitted any signatures to the Utah Elections Office – putting all his hopes into county convention delegates.

Because Senate District 10 is wholly inside of Salt Lake County, that internal GOP race went to the county convention – not the state convention.

Fillmore beat Cunningham and several other Senate 10 GOP candidates in a special December 2015 delegate election to fill the rest of the term of former Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-West Jordan, who resigned his seat because of private business demands.

Fillmore has received $10,000 in contributions from the Senate GOP PAC, formed and operated to re-elect incumbent Republican senators.

He has also gotten cash contributions from five GOP senators totaling $4,800, his campaign disclosure statements show.

Cunningham has a $750 donation from the House GOP PAC, but he says he’s giving that back. “It came when I was still thinking about running for my House seat; I don’t think it is ethical to take (primary) donations from that PAC” before Republican voters speak, he said.

Cunningham has gotten $4,000 from the Wasatch Legislative PAC, a PAC set up by Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who sits next to Cunningham on the House floor.

Cunningham had just over $30,000 cash in his pre-convention financial report while Fillmore had just $13,500 in cash then.

Cunningham is a private financial advisor; Fillmore runs a charter school administration company.

The winner of the June 28 GOP primary – which is closed to only registered Republicans – will face Democrat Dan Paget in November.

Democrats haven’t held the West Jordan state Senate seat in a long time, and it is considered a safe GOP seat.

“I’ve been told by several (Republican) senators that they don’t want me in the Senate,” said Cunningham. “They say I can’t be controlled in that body.

“And now my own (county) party is against me. I’m not surprised by this, but disappointed.”