In another poorly attended June primary, Merrill Cook finally got happy, Ross Anderson got a chance to prove "liberal" isn't a four-letter word and Chris Cannon got farther than his brother Joe.
Utah lawmakers decided three years ago that a June primary was the way to go. After terrible voter turnout in the June 1994 primary, party leaders said wait until 1996, things will get better. Well, this year wasn't much better. While turnout varied according to which races were on the ballot in which counties, overall the turnout was around 15 percent - 17 percent in Salt Lake County and 20 percent in Utah County. Bad by any Utah measure.But the winners aren't complaining.
For Cook, the 10th time was the charm. Yep. Six lost races and three failed ballot initiatives later, Cook wins a race. (He did win the GOP primary for Salt Lake County Commission in 1986 but lost the final election.) Cook beat Todd Neilson, an FBI-agent-turned-CPA, who tried to convince voters Cook was a disloyal Republican who didn't deserve the nomination. Cook won 52 percent to Neilson's 48 percent.
Cook now faces Anderson, a local attorney who hasn't run for office previously, to see who will sit in Rep. Enid Greene's seat in the U.S. House. Greene is leaving Congress.
Anderson defeated Utah House Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson in the Democratic 2nd District primary, 56 percent to 44 percent. Atkinson's chant was that Anderson was too liberal to win in November. But if that's true, loyal Democrats weren't listening.
"These were loyal Democrats who were voting and making a very strong statement about recommitting themselves to fundamental Democratic values," An-der-son said. "They see me as motivated by a genuine desire to serve and by my view of us as a community and a nation as one large family in which we should treat each other with love and compassion."
Atkinson, who is an LDS Church member and moderately conservative, entered the race at the request of some moderate Demo-cra-tic leaders who were concerned about Anderson's positions on a number of social issues. But Atkinson's message that his opponent couldn't be elected failed to stick on Anderson, who actually held a press conference where old-line Democrats said they're proud Anderson is a liberal.
Nearly double the number of people voted in the GOP 2nd District race than in the Anderson-Atkinson race - and that should really worry Democratic leaders who look to Anderson to take back the 2nd Congressional District from Republicans. The last time twice as many people picked the Republican primary ballot over the Democrat ballot - in the 1992 gubernatorial primaries - the Democratic nominee went on to finish third in a three-way race.
Will Atkinson's defeat further fracture the already-weak Democratic Party? Atkinson, for one, will be working to get Anderson elected. "Just as Anderson's supporters believe in the issues that he espouses, we should keep working for our principles," Atkinson said. "The easy thing to do is abandon the Democratic Party, but that does not make a stronger party."
Meanwhile, Cannon won his primary against conservative Tom Draschil in the 3rd Congressional District, 56 percent to 44 percent. Draschil made a poorer showing Tuesday than he did two years ago when he nearly nipped the nomination in the GOP primary. Cannon carried every county in the district, even Utah County, where Draschil needed to beat Cannon by a large number of votes if he hoped to win.
Cannon's older brother, Joe, lost the U.S. Senate GOP primary in 1992. So, Chris has at least gotten farther than that. Both Cannons spent considerable sums of their personal fortunes on their races.
Draschil was one of the most conservative candidates in recent years, even winning endorsement from the national Eagle Forum, a traditional family-values group. But that conservatism may have worked against him in the end with many voters looking for a more moderate alternative.
Cannon attributed his win to being able to show a contrast in political philosophy between himself and fellow Republican Draschil. "It was the debates. Each debate brought forth a clear difference on a large number of issues," Cannon said.
Nevertheless, the unprecedented amount of money Cannon spent on the campaign can't be ignored. He outspent Draschil by nearly $400,000, much of it his own money. Cannon pumped $130,000 of his own money into the race in the final two weeks.
Cannon said he got a bum rap on the spending issue. Cannon said much of the money was spent upfront in anticipation of a November showdown with Democratic Rep. Bill Orton, a popular incumbent with great name identification.
Before Tuesday's results, the Draschil campaign accused Cannon of trying to buy the election. But Draschil backed away from that claim after the votes were counted. He did say, however, he believed money was a "major factor" in his defeat.
In Salt Lake County, community activist Paulina Flint beat Mike Broussard in the Democratic primary to get a shot at GOP County Commissioner Brent Overson. And in Utah County, GOP Commissioner Gary Herbert won handily Tuesday night, as did Davis County GOP Commissioner Gayle Stevenson. Herbert has no Democratic opponent, so his November election is ensured.
Deseret News/KSL pollster Dan Jones said Neilson was coming on toward the end of the race but couldn't catch the well-funded Cook. "Merrill had tremendous name identification, excellent TV and radio ads and few people even knew who Todd was until the last week," said Jones.
"With so short a time between the convention and the primary, we just couldn't make up the difference," Neilson said. "I support Merrill now completely and will work for his election."
Neilson said he may run again, adding the race was a "trying and interesting experience." Neilson may have lost by about 1,000 votes Tuesday night, but his defeat was really tied to only 19 votes. A 19-vote swing in the May state GOP convention would have eliminated Cook then. Barely getting out of the convention, Cook said he'd be more popular with rank-and-file Republicans than party-loyal delegates, and he was.
Neilson sent out a mailer late last week to a number of senior citizens in the district saying Cook would cut Social Security and Medicare if elected. Cook complained loudly in the press, but behind the scenes he got his mother to write a postcard saying he'd never do such a thing and then mailed it out to 39,000 senior citizens in the district. Such fast work - and the personal funds to put together the last-minute effort - may have saved the race, said Cook. "Thanks, Mom," Cook joked during his election-night celebration.
Jones said Anderson turned out the core Democratic voters. "(Anderson) was seen as more committed to the pro-choice movement" than Atkinson, and Anderson "was a very good debater," said Jones.
For the more than 75 percent of Utah registered voters who didn't bother to cast a primary ballot Tuesday, the final elections in November should be more interesting.
Of course, it's a presidential year, and President Clinton will face Republican Bob Dole. GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt will also be on the ballot, challenged by former Democratic Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley.
2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Merrill Cook (R) 18,502
Todd Neilson (R) 17,246
Ross Anderson (D) 9,713
Kelly Atkinson (D) 7,772
3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Chris Cannon (R) 27,705
Tom Draschil (R) 22,018
S.L. COUNTY COMMISSIONER
Paulina Flint (D) 9,637
Michael Broussard (D) 7,442
DAVIS COUNTY COMMISSIONER
Gayle Stevenson (R) 7,059
Burke Larsen (R) 4,986