In the first gubernatorial debate of the 2016 election, GOP challenger Jonathan Johnson challenged Gov. Gary Herbert to abandon the signature gathering route to the primary ballot, which would leave his fate in the hands of the delegates at Saturday's state convention.
Our "Political Insiders" say that's not a very good idea.
Only 29% of the Republicans on our panel say Herbert should abandon the signature route. Just 8% of Democrats think Herbert should give up his guaranteed place on the ballot and 38% of our readers think the same.
Johnson initially said he would use both the signature and the caucus/convention/delegate path, but later abandoned signature gathering. That means Johnson must get at least 40% support from the delegates on Saturday or his bid for the governor's mansion ends. Herbert gathered the required 28,000 signatures, meaning he cannot be eliminated no matter what happens on Saturday.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled the signature-gathering route is legal, despite lawsuits from the Utah GOP challenging the new law.
Selected anonymous comments:
"The law is the law. A candidate should be able to use any method allowed by law."
"It is a clever trick by the Johnson campaign, but Herbert should not fall for it."
"Governor Herbert is not stupid."
"Johnson has done just about everything to sellout to the party's extreme right. In this case, choosing to forego signatures because it was politically expedient. The Governor signed SB54 and should wear that proudly by beating Johnson at the convention without forfeiting his signatures."
"That would be silly. Right or wrong, SB54 is the current law. He'd be foolish to take the bait here."
"No matter how much James Evans wants to pretend otherwise, most of us hate the caucus/convention system and are perfectly fine with the signature route. Do the right thing, Herbie. Get to the primary and win."
"This is just a trick by Johnson. Like all strident right-wing libertarians, he's hoping the 20% of Utah residents that will vote for him will all magically show up at the convention. Not. Gonna. Happen."
"With the Republican Party stating that they do not intend to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, and the Democrats stating that the Republican's should have their QPP status revoked, the only intelligent thing to do is signatures and convention. Governor Herbert is too pragmatic to get distracted by the ideologues."
"The court has upheld the law. Anyone has the right to gather signatures to get on the ballot for a primary election. Johnson asking Herbert not to take advantage of this is like your golf partner saying, 'let's not keep score, we will just say whoever wins the last hole will be the winner.'"
"This is just cheap political baiting by Johnson, who was not able to get enough signatures, so he gave up. SB54 is the law, and Governor Herbert is simply being wise in covering all of his bases. Governor Herbert, with his 80% approval rating from the voters, would be foolish to risk the type of diabolical subterfuge that brought down Senator Bennett."
"There is no upside to Herbert accepting in this challenge. It's his 'get out of convention' free card."
"Absolutely not! The signature route is the right way to get there, and he needs to honor that based on the SB 54 compromise."
"That would be plain stupid if you already know you can be on the primary ballot via collected signatures. Banal idiocy is not something we should wish upon any government leader."
"If he supports the caucus/convention system like he says he does, he should walk the walk, not just talk the talk."
"Herbert would have to abandon his promise to go along with the grand compromise that kept the path to candidacy from being placed on the ballot last year. I believe Herbert has the integrity to live by his promise to Utahns and not by loyalty to a corrupt Utah Republican Party leadership."
"What's next? I bet Jonathan Johnson will challenge Herbert to a duel. He's desperate and grasping at straws. The real question is what type of duel?"
"That is just a dumb request and an election gimmick."
"Johnathon Johnson is afraid that he made a monumental mistake by not gathering signatures. But, wait a minute. SB54 is against his principles. Sticking to his guns (conceal-carry, of course), may have caused Mr. Johnson to have a huge defeat, instead of merely a defeat. Either way, I'll be content. Oh, my heck! Do you pick up on the idea that I support Gov. Herbert? Hopefully, I'm not too obvious. Dang! I might have been. I'm sooooooo sorry."
"Just ask Bob Bennett."
"Why would Herbert throw out the names of thousands of supporters whom he will represent as Governor? Is one voter more valuable than another? Johnson seems to be implying that state delegates are superior to all other citizens."
"The signature route is proving to be very popular with almost everyone. Why cater to the fringes that Johnson is trying to curry favor with?"
"What a ridiculous ask! Herbert would be crazy to give it up."
"Herbert's approval ratings are so high that I don't think it matters which route he takes to obtain the Utah GOP nomination for governor. Johnson must think that he can sway enough delegates to win the nomination at the convention but is less confident about coming out victorious in a primary."
"When Johnson finally realized he would lose big in a primary against Herbert, there was no advantage to getting his own signatures (despite previously having said he would). This is simply thinly veiled pandering to the delegates."
"The Republican Party in Utah has become fossilized and stuck in an ultra conservative place the citizens don't really support. This seems to cause things like Legislature taking actions that we-the-people deplore. I think the party will be much better off if people of whom the leadership may not 100% approve but who believe themselves to be Republicans (it isn't a blood oath or a genetic condition, after all!) can be endorsed by ordinary citizen-Republicans. Advancing to the ballot by signature-gathering is an excellent step forward in Utah. I am glad Governor Herbert wants to do it, I am glad the courts upheld it, and I signed the original petitions to allow it."
"It's a bit late to make this case since the cake is already baked. Perhaps it makes for an effective strategy to rile up convention delegates against Herbert, but no amount of griping will change Herbert's already made decision."
"The single most ridiculous and disingenuous thing Johnson said in the debate--which is saying something. For four months Johnson whined about needing to debate Herbert in the fall of 2015 because, Johnson said, 'I am gathering signatures and the people providing their signatures deserve the chance to know where we stand.'"
"It's a stupid challenge, and it's all Johnson has. Johnson's pathetic campaign will be over soon."
"Has JJ asked Sen. Mike Lee to forego the signature route? He always gets so upset at the governor, but his hypocrisy is glaring when he ignores that Sen. Lee has done the exact same thing."
"He has nothing to win by giving up the signature route. The right political strategy is to reject Johnson's challenge."