Utah GOP Will Not Endorse Primary Candidates

UTGOP Logo 02The governing body of the Utah Republican Party – the 180-member Central Committee – will not endorse candidates in a primary election.

For now, at least, the party will keep with its current bylaws, which prohibits the party as a whole, or its leaders, from endorsing, or favoring, a candidate while the nomination is still being contested.

It’s a win for 3rd District GOP challenger Chia-Chi Teng, a BYU professor, who faces incumbent Rep. Jason Chaffetz in the closed June 28 primary election.

Teng already has radio spots up and is clearly spending some money in his primary race.

If the state CC had decided to endorse in the primary, Teng would find his own party against him, and for incumbent Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Teng gets on the ballot by following SB54’s signature gathering route to the primary – getting 7,000 signatures from GOP-registered voters in the 3rd District. The district includes much of eastern Utah County and counties in the southeastern part of the state.

Chaffetz won more than 60 percent of the delegate vote in the April GOP state convention. So, under current party rules, he is the party’s nominee – since the party bylaws do not follow SB54 regulations.

However, another bylaw states that the party won’t endorse or back a candidate until the nominee is picked – either in convention or a primary.

Party chairman James Evans, said after a three-hour closed CC session Saturday discussed various legal strategies and SB54 in general, that since the party started this election cycle not endorsing in the primary, it will not change its bylaws and endorse now before the June 28 vote.

In fact, Evans told UtahPolicy on Monday, “there was not much” inclination among CC members on the endorsement front, so it was not even discussed in the closed session, although a related item was on the agenda call.

What could happen in the future if SB54 stays in place is unclear, with Evans saying there could be “political” avenues taken to ensure that someone who files as a GOP candidate actually believes in the party platform “and general” GOP principles.

Mail-in ballots go out this week in most Utah counties. And registered Republicans could be voting within days by mailing their ballots back to their county clerks.

The Utah, Salt Lake, and Davis County Republican Parties have already decided to endorse in races where a candidate got more than 60 percent of the county delegate votes, but their challenger got on the primary ballot via SB54 signature-gathering.

Many political observers, including yours truly, believed the state Central Committee would Saturday follow suit, and decide to do the same thing. But it didn’t.

So, for now, state Republican Party leaders will be following the desires of their own rank-and-file members.

An April poll for UtahPolicy by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 64 percent of those who self-identified as Republicans said they DON’T want their party endorsing candidates before the primary election, whether or not one of them got more than 60 percent of the convention delegate votes, and others got on the ballot via SB54 signature gathering.

Only 27 percent of Utah Republicans said they do want their state party to endorse candidates before the primary election, and 10 percent didn’t know.

The Utah Election Office has decided to follow the letter of the law, and under SB54 any candidate who gets the required number of signatures in his race – 28,000 statewide, 7,000 congressional, 2,000 Utah Senate, 1,000 Utah House, or a percent of population in each county contest – will go to the primary ballot, regardless of what happens to them if they decide to go through their party caucus/delegate/convention route.

Whether political parties decide to endorse before the primary election or not, such an endorsement WOULD NOT be found on the primary ballot itself, however.

The Utah Election Office decided that no endorsement or any kind of official recognition will appear next to candidates name on the ballot.

Gov. Gary Herbert and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee both gathered the required signatures and also went through their state GOP conventions.

Herbert’s signature gathering is an issue in his race against GOP challenger Jonathan Johnson – with Johnson ending up beating Herbert in the convention, 55-45 percent.

If the CC had decided to oppose candidates who didn’t get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote, it would not have affected Herbert – since he got 45 percent of the delegate vote and advances via the old party system to the primary anyway.

But some GOP state delegates were clearly still unhappy with Herbert for signing SB54 into law, and for taking the signature-gathering route this year – as it is unusual for a sitting GOP incumbent to not at least get more delegate votes in his convention than his challenger(s).

The state GOP has lost three rounds of court cases, two in Utah federal court and before the Utah Supreme Court, both which ruled SB54 constitutional.

Evans said that the CC still strongly supports fighting SB54.

And later this summer Evans will bring financial estimates to CC members on what it will cost to appeal the pro-SB54 ruling of Federal Judge David Nuffer to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

But even if party leaders decide not to appeal the federal case, there likely will be political actions taken, added Evans.

What those include are not decided upon, but could include asking GOP state lawmakers and legislative candidates to repeal SB54 or greatly change it. If sitting legislators didn’t vote to repeal, that vote could be advertised by party leaders in the lawmaker’s next re-election.

Evans said despite opposition to the party’s continued fight against SB54 by Count My Vote supporters and other Republicans (Evans specifically called out LaVarr Webb, UtahPolicy owner, and publisher), the party will seek options to make sure no one can “buy” a GOP nomination (via the signature route), all while not really adhering to Utah Republican principles and beliefs.

That has been the main objection to SB54 and the signature route all along, said Evans.

“That’s been our concern,” said Evans, that some candidate may file as a Republican but not really be one, and voters be deceived by a big, costly media campaign into putting that person into office.