clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Coast-to-coast balloting spreads victories among Democrats, Page A5.More than 31,000 Utahns voted Tuesday in the state's first Democratic presidential primary, a much higher turnout than party leaders expected.

Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas finished first, with 38 percent of the vote, followed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown with 28 percent and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton with 18 percent.Long lines of citizens waiting to vote were found in several Wasatch Front high schools, where the Democrats set up their polling places. At least four high schools ran out of ballots and had to send to party headquarters for more.

Still missing from the vote totals Wednesday morning were four high schools in San Juan County. But state Democratic Party Executive Director James Roberts said the final numbers wouldn't change much. "We guess fewer than 70 people voted in San Juan County," he said.

The surprise of the primary was not Tsongas - who spent upward of $45,000 on television advertisements and was expected to do well. Rather, it was Brown.

Brown visited Utah twice - although one was a midnight trip - and appeared on 20 radio interviews. It appears Brown's anti-political-establishment messages struck home - at least to some voters.

Kyle Kopitke, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Brown's Utah coordinator, said Brown's "stunning success shows that the people of Utah yearn for a campaign theme of an American Renaissance." Brown's second-place finish in Utah and his victory in Colorado ensures him of federal matching funds for the rest of the campaign. Kopitke said Brown, always low on funds, even gave $400 to the effort in Utah to limit political action committee campaign funds and limit terms of incumbent politicians.

Former Democratic party chairman Pat Shea, who's running for governor this year, said he guesses that some of Brown's support came from "the Merrill Cook Democrats," those who like Brown's anti-establishment themes, the common-man approach to politics.

Brown also probably appealed to hard-core environmentalists. Brown ran an ad in the University of Utah's Daily Chronicle on Tuesday, urging students to vote for the candidate who "mourns" for Mother Earth.

While Democratic leaders should be happy with the numbers voting Tuesday, and Brown should be pleased with his showing, it helps to place the primary in perspective.

True, the 31,000 voters are nearly three times the number who participated in the Democrats' 1988 mass meetings. But those 31,000 are less than 5 percent of the 640,000 Utahns who voted in the 1988 general election.

At stake Tuesday were 23 Utah delegates to the Democratic National Convention, to be held in July in New York City. The convention has 4,287 delegates. Thus, the Utah delegates divided up Tuesday by voters are only 0.5 percent of the delegates who will ultimately pick the party's presidential nominee.

Such analysis doesn't dampen Utah Democratic leaders' joy over the success of Tuesday's primary, however.

"People were excited in this state," says Peter Billings Jr., state party chairman. "And they were thankful. I visited a number of the polling places and many came up to me just to say thanks - they were glad that the state party cared enough about them to let them vote."

Billings said the open primary - anyone over 18 could vote, even Republicans - was an aid to Tsongas, who didn't visit the state but did run TV advertisements - and probably a hurt to Clinton and Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey.

"Both the state Clinton and Kerrey campaigns were well organized and probably would have done better in a caucus or mass meeting approach," Billings said. "Tsongas and Brown ran campaigns that were helped by the primary approach."

Gary Johnson, Tsongas' Utah coordinator, said the Massachusetts native did well because of his character. "Winning in Utah shows that Tsongas can carry the nation. His honesty, commitment and compassion comes through."

Utah's 23 delegates chosen Tuesday will be split up this way: nine go to Tsongas, six to Brown, three to Clinton and five are uncommitted. Utah also has five "super-delegates," four state officers and one at-large delegate to be picked in the state convention. Kerrey already has one "super-delegate" vote - party vice chairman D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli.


Election Results

Utah primary


(Votes) Percent of vote

Tsongas (10,671) 34%

Brown (8,972) 28%

Clinton (5,763) 18%

Kerrey (5,763) 11%

Harkin (1,267) 4%

Uncommitted (726) 2%

Other (598) 2%