More than a few Utah GOP leaders are worrying about what’s now being called the “Trump factor” – the impact that a Trump presidential campaign could have down-ticket in Utah.
Trump is controversial everywhere, but he is not popular in Utah, where he finished a distant third in March GOP caucuses.
State Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish, under the name Wasatch Legislative PAC, sent out emails last week to thousands of unaffiliated voters – the call specifically designed to get “conservative and moderate” political independents to sign up to be registered Republicans and vote in June 28GOP primaries and in November’s election.
Various national media outlets have written about Trump’s problem with Mormons.
The LDS Church’s Deseret News has written several anti-Trump editorials, and church leaders issued a specific response in opposing Trump’s stand on keeping some Muslims out of the United States “until we know what is going on” in new rounds of terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S.
And McKell tells UtahPolicy that if the Utah GOP doesn’t present a “big tent” option – and with Trump at the head of the ticket – then some currently-held GOP House seats in Salt Lake County “could be in trouble.”
“We (in the PAC) don’t want that.” All of this anti-Trump factor talk is troublesome, said McKell.
McKell doesn’t name Trump in his email.
But he does talk the national Republican Party being in trouble and the need to regroup and get good, solution-mined conservatives elected.
His primary concern is a handful of west-side Salt Lake County seats where incumbents have won by less than 8 percent of the vote in recent elections – seats held by Reps. Johnny Anderson, R-West Valley, (who is retiring this year); Sophia DeCaro, R-West Valley; Bruce Cutler, R-Murray; Eric Hutchings, R-West Valley; and Fred Cox, R-West Valley, who was defeated in the Salt Lake County GOP convention by former West Valley Mayor Mike Winder.
McKell cites a Deseret News poll that shows 16 percent of voters would stay home if Trump were the nominee.
“If we have legislative races decided by 8 percent or less, and 16 percent of our voters stay home, that’s trouble,” said McKell.
Trump has won the nomination (according to an Associated Press count of GOP national delegates) by appealing to disaffected, mostly White, male voters.
But a lot of women and minorities don’t like Trump. And Trump has his own problems with Mormons in Utah – even though a new UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds Trump is now handily beating Democratic Hillary Clinton in Utah.
The email says: “This email is being paid for by a group of Republicans who have a big tent mentality. We believe that there is room for all types of common sense conservatives within the Republican Party.
“We support the idea that ultra-conservatives, moderates and everyone in between can find common ground and work together to help put our state and country on a better path.”
The Wasatch Legislative PAC was founded in 2013 by McKell; House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton; and Reps. Rich Cunningham, R-West Jordan, (who is running for the Senate against Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-West Jordan); Craig Hall, R-Sandy; and John Knotwell, R-Herriman.
While specifically worried about some Salt Lake County GOP House members’ districts this year, McKell said U.S. Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, “could also be vulnerable” to the same anti-Trump GOP backlash as Utah House GOP lawmakers.
The state GOP is already moving ahead with a November strategy to get anti-Trump GOP voters to the polls in the 4th Congressional District, with its heart in the west side of Salt Lake County.