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Bob Bernick Jr.: How things are likely to turn out Tuesday

SHARE Bob Bernick Jr.: How things are likely to turn out Tuesday

Are you planning on voting next Tuesday?

Did you know there are statewide and congressional primary elections?

Democrats don't have any high-profile contests — a state Senate race in Salt Lake City, council and commission races in Summit and Wasatch counties only. But Republicans surely do have big races Tuesday.

And under Utah law, if you are a registered Republican or what's known as an "unaffiliated" voter — someone not registered in any political party — you can vote in the Republican primary. By far, those two categories make up most Utahns.

True, you have to fill out a Republican Party registration card at the polls, officially becoming an elephant supporter, in order to get a GOP ballot Tuesday if you are not already registered GOP.

But (as I plan to do) you can go down to your county clerk's office soon after the primary and re-register as an unaffiliated voter.

In a couple of years, however, the grace period for unaffiliated voters ends, and you won't be able to register as a Republican on Election Day. If you aren't an honest-to-goodness registered Republican weeks before the closed GOP primary, you won't get a Republican ballot.

In any case, go vote Tuesday. It's important.

Why?

Well, Nolan Karras and Jon Huntsman Jr. are on the GOP ballot for governor. And it's likely whoever wins that race will be giving an inaugural speech come January.

Utah hasn't elected a Democratic governor since the late Gov. Scott M. Matheson won a second term in 1980. So, odds are, one of these two Republicans will be governor.

Of course, Scott Matheson Jr., the Democratic nominee, and his supporters will have something to say about that. And Matheson is looking pretty good in early polls by Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones & Associates.

But Utah is a very Republican state, as well. And if you live in the 2nd or 3rd congressional districts (roughly Salt Lake County and south and east), you also have a Republican primary Tuesday.

Scott Matheson's younger brother, two-term Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, will face the winner of the John Swallow-Tim Bridgewater rematch. This GOP race turned even uglier last week with radio and TV ads by Bridgewater taking out after Swallow, and a Swallow mailer "comparing" his advantages over Bridgewater. Both men accuse the other of negative campaigning.

Polls show the race, which had Swallow ahead, closing tightly.

One thing is clear: Don't expect a united Republican Party coming out of Tuesday's 2nd District primary. But the winner will have months to raise money against Matheson.

In the 3rd District, four-term incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon has been forced into a primary again. His challenger this time is former state House Rep. Matt Throckmorton. I don't know why Cannon has such troubles within his own party. He's about as conservative as one can get, even for Utah — which is saying something.

Throckmorton is making hay — and found outside supporters — over Cannon's stands on illegal immigrants. But, come on, that's not a critical issue for most Utahns. When was the last time you worried about illegal immigration?

Anyway, for what it's worth, here are my picks for Tuesday:

If voter turnout is decent, Huntsman could beat Karras in a landslide. If it's a low turnout, the race is much closer. But either way, I believe Huntsman has too much name identification and has run a good enough campaign to win.

I've known Karras for 22 years, since I started covering the Legislature and he was a young Utah House member from Roy (he retired as speaker a decade later). He's a talented guy. But the polls suggest he has not caught on, especially against Huntsman.

Karras keeps asking, "Do you want substance or style?" The answer doesn't seem to be going his way.

And the race between the two has turned into a love fest, which is not helping Karras differentiate himself. When Karras started saying nice things about Huntsman in a debate Wednesday night on KSL-TV, moderator Bruce Lindsay interrupted him to get a little more life into the program. Karras can't even seem to get a pro-Huntsman comment across.

If the 2nd District GOP race is an example of how the party does not want to see a primary campaign waged, the Huntsman-Karras race is the poster boy of gentlemanly behavior.

I don't have a good feel for who wins between Swallow and Bridgewater. Bridgewater's radio and TV ads slamming Swallow are pretty tough. And that kind of thing has backfired in Utah politics before. But Bridgewater has clearly been closing on Swallow the past several weeks.

As of this column's deadline, I think Swallow still pulls it out. But if the turnout Tuesday is low, Bridgewater may have the edge among Republican loyalists — who are still upset with Swallow losing to Matheson in 2002.

Cannon keeps his 3rd District seat, I believe, Throckmorton falling short due to lack of issues and money. But I don't see Cannon ever getting comfortable in the Utah County-based district. He seems to have an edge about him that just gets under some Republicans' skins.

I think this is the race for the seat — the district is just so Republican it will be tough for Democrat Beau Babka to get enough recognition and money to make a serious challenge in the finals.

Expect Cannon to have other GOP challengers in 2006, maybe even another primary race.

In Utah, the Republican primaries are nearly always important, because the men and women who win there usually end up in office. Make your voice heard Tuesday.


Deseret Morning News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at bbjr@desnews.com