At first glance, GOP gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright’s pick of retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop to be his lieutenant governor running mate -- announced Thursday -- may appear odd.
With the biggest question being, “Why in the world would Bishop even want to be anyone’s LG -- a second-place office?”
But upon further reflection -- and isn’t that what political reporters like me love to do -- Wright’s pick borders on political strategy genius.
I’ll keep my arguments in favor of Bishop taking second on the ticket for a moment.
First, here are reasons why Wright’s Bishop pick is thoughtful and cagey:
-- Bishop on the ticket, and on the ticket early, gives Wright access now to much of Bishop’s $295,000 federal U.S. House campaign account. Now, Bishop may not want to give Wright all of that money. While Bishop can’t take that money for himself, he can give campaign money to a Utah state candidate, or a non-profit.
And he may want to start some kind of Bishop foundation at a local university or such.
But Bishop is likely to give Wright a lot of that cash, and help the Wright/Bishop ticket just like Enid Greene coming on to then-GOP gubernatorial candidate Nolan Karras’ ticket in 2004 helped that campaign financially.
-- Wright defines himself as a strong conservative, and while he was party chairman and has good relations with arch-conservative Republicans in the state, Bishop is a proven right-winger. And past state delegates love Bishop, as has been seen in recent Republican conventions.
Thus, Wright shores up his conservative base by bringing Bishop on board. Bishop will be especially helpful with 1st Congressional District GOP delegates, since they have supported Bishop strongly in the past.
-- A Wright/Bishop ticket has a shot -- a long shot, maybe, but a shot -- at getting 60 percent of the delegate vote in an early-May state GOP convention. With 2,400 delegate votes, the pair could eliminate all other contenders in convention -- and be the sole pick of the delegates, a good campaign point in the primary election.
-- GOP candidate Greg Hughes says he will not gather signatures, putting all of his hopes on the 4,000 state GOP delegates, who will be picked in mid-March GOP percent caucuses, or neighborhood meetings.
If Hughes can’t get at least 40 percent of the delegates, he’s out of the race. And a Wright/Bishop ticket is not good news for Hughes in convention.
-- Wright is collecting 28,000 signatures of registered Republicans to guarantee himself (and his LG) a spot on the late June closed Republican primary, regardless of what happens in the convention.
Also collecting signatures are four other GOP candidates: Former Gov. Jon Huntsman; current Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox; Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton; and hi-tech millionaire Jeff Burningham.
Wright has hired Utah’s premiere signature-gathering firm to help him get his signatures. And since the firm will only work for one candidate in a certain race, none of the other serious candidates can hire that firm.
Thus, Wright has locked out the other four gubernatorial candidates who seek signatures from that firm, giving Wright a leg up there.
Several of the other candidates will clearly have to use mostly volunteers to gather signatures -- and that is risky.
Without a good, paid signature drive, one or two of the other four signature candidates may not reach the 28,000 needed to make the primary.
They will all likely go to the convention, but as we’ve detailed only two can come out there -- or maybe just one.
Bishop likely has an extensive file of GOP voters who’ve supported him in his U.S. House races. Now Wright can use that file to gather signatures in the 1st District, which makes up about one-fourth of the state’s population. And the 1st District is overwhelmingly Republican -- a lot of potential signatures there.
A GOP voter’s signature can only be counted once in any race, so getting signatures early is key to reaching 28,000.
Bishop’s files can also be used by the Wright/Bishop ticket to encourage those previous-Bishop supporters to run for state delegate.
-- Two folks can always do more work than one, so picking Bishop so early in the campaign (often, LGs aren’t picked until the convention itself, or just a few days before), Wright now can call on Bishop to contact delegates, fund raise, seek endorsements (about every Utah GOP leader and his dog has endorsed Bishop at one time or another), and so on.
-- Even though he proudly sports a bald head, Wright is a relatively young man and certainly not well known to Utah voters, even rank and file Republicans.
But Bishop is well-known, having been in the U.S. House since 2003, and getting much press when he was chair of the House Natural Resources Committee for several years.
Bishop, at 68, is a veteran, proven GOP leader, bringing gravitas to a Wright/Bishop ticket.
Now, why in the world would Bishop even want to be LG?
Well, it’s better than retirement -- at least in his mind.
Bishop was clearly having second thoughts about his decision to retire from the House this year -- he wants to still be in the fight somehow.
Bishop was thinking about running for governor, but announced he was not and said he was supporting Wright. Now we see Wright likely had Bishop in his pocket for some time.
But it’s very unlikely Republicans can win a majority in 2020 in the U.S. House; and even if lightning strikes, Bishop is term-limited out of his Natural Resources chairmanship.
As LG in a Wright administration, Bishop could take on public lands issues -- his forte -- and work with the Legislature (where years ago he was speaker) and Congress in what could be a glorifying achievement -- getting the U.S. government to give control of federal lands in Utah to the state.
So, a very smart political move for Wright to pick Bishop as his running mate.
Now we’ll see how this impacts the 2020 crowded GOP gubernatorial field.