Tuesday’s primary election will be historic. It is the first time candidates could choose their path to the primary ballot, either by gathering signatures or by using the caucus/convention process — or both. Further, most Utahns will be voting by mail, another first. This increases interest in primary results.
Is the primary election a major test for the new nomination process? What else will politicos be watching for in election results?
Pignanelli: "American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver's license age than at voting age.” — Marshall McLuhan
The fabulous news is for several hours on Wednesday, Utahns will have something to digest other than the disgusting offal of the presidential election. Political nerds — like us — eagerly await dissecting the election results. Intelligent, well-balanced humans (aka our readers) should consider the following when reviewing Tuesday’s outcomes:
The gubernatorial primary is a referendum whether Republicans want to continue the governor's leadership style or choose a different direction. Secondly, this is a choice between a candidate who obtained signatures from the new nomination process and one that stuck to the traditional delegate/convention system. Third, will mail balloting in most counties prompt an increase in turnout?
Fourth, an increase in primary participation over prior years could signal that despite frustration with Donald Trump, Republicans are willing to truck to the polls, or at least to the kitchen table, to complete the ballot. This could be a big deal.
Finally, success by Republican candidates who chose the signature process will not bring the Apocalypse. So GOP leaders must face the reality that further consternation about Count My Vote (CMV) is fruitless.
Webb: The new nomination process has already been highly successful. Even in the face of aggressive Republican Party opposition, lawsuits, and a great deal of intimidation and confusion, many dozens of candidates gathered signatures, and many of them — like Sen. Mike Lee — are already party nominees.
On Tuesday, thanks to the option to gather signatures to get on the ballot, a lot more voters will have real primary election choices, including in the 3rd Congressional District, where Chia-Chi Teng ran a feisty race against Rep. Jason Chaffetz (and spent half a million dollars of his own money to do it). Teng won’t win, but he’s given voters a choice that wouldn’t exist without the option to gather signatures.
What primary races should we be watching to see the impact of SB54/Count My Vote?
Pignanelli: The media and politicos are watching two Senate races that are a test on the CMV issue. Provo State Sen. Curt Bramble crafted the compromise legislation implementing the signature nomination process. He is facing a strong challenge from former Rep. Christopher Herrod who is leveraging Utah County Republican officials’ hatred of CMV.
The race between Rep. Richard Cunningham and Sen. Lincoln Fillmore is also on the radar. Fillmore was chosen twice by delegates to replace a vacancy in a state Senate seat and then for the primary ballot. Cunningham easily secured the petition signatures for a primary spot. So this is a classic struggle for opposing sides of the CMV issue.
Webb: The gubernatorial contest matters a great deal. Jonathan Johnson is the biggest threat to Count My Vote because he has pledged to repeal SB54 and destroy the Count My Vote movement (for which I have been a volunteer). Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB54 into law. That establishes a very clear contrast.
Utah County GOP leaders have shunned and attacked their own Republican candidates who gathered signatures, so races worth watching include: Mike Brenny (signature gatherer) vs. Cory Malloy; Dan Hemmert (signature gatherer) vs. Morgan Philpot; Xani Haynie (signature gatherer) vs. Brian Greene (incumbent); and Rick Moore (signature gatherer) vs. Marc Roberts (incumbent). Also telling will be Caitlin Gochnour (signature gatherer) vs. Jim Harvey in the Weber County Commission race.
Will the primary results offer insight into general election races in November and perhaps in future years?
Pignanelli: Democrats and Republicans will analyze turnout as a potential level of interest for the general election. Tactics used to push return of mail ballots will be examined and refined. Further, the results will provide guidance to future candidates deciding between the signature or delegate process for nomination. The methods applied — and lessons learned — in this unprecedented primary will be replicated for years.
Webb: Count My Vote has sent a clear message that mainstream Utah leaders are finally willing to put up a fight and support mainstream candidates. Win or lose, that matters in future elections. Former Gov. Mike Leavitt even campaigned door-to-door with signature-gathering candidates. Mass mailings were sent to targeted district voters.
Additionally, this election signifies a new era in Utah politics. The delegate cartel has been smashed. The party machine controlling the nomination process is overturned. No longer does a small group of delegates determine the fate of our elected leaders. Politicians can be responsible and accountable to all party voters and citizens without having to worry about a small group of powerful insiders.
This is real, fundamental political reform that will be good for future elections and especially for the making of public policy in Utah.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.