Tuesday’s Republican primary election is shattering records for dollars spent and numbers of candidates competing. While the key objective is to choose party nominees for the November general election, other dynamics will be revealed with the results. We use our crystal ball.

Utah is a deeply red state. But the signature-gathering and convention process has revealed large fissures and fractures among Utah Republicans. What’s at stake for the GOP on Tuesday?

Pignanelli: “The primary is a uniquely American innovation with roots to early colonial New England and the era of the writing of the U.S. Constitution.” — Clay Jenkinson, Governing Magazine

Mystics, psychics and other seers examine “tells” in their subjects to predict the future. The trajectory of the Utah GOP may be gleaned from outcomes on Tuesday.

If few convention-winning candidates secure a spot on the November ballot, GOP leaders will question the roles of caucus-elected delegates. Further erosion of their power by the legislature may occur, while keeping some features of the existing system.

Open alignment with MAGA and direct or implied endorsements from former President Donald Trump will also be scrutinized. Other factors determining the fate of the GOP include incumbency, populism versus mainstream conservatism and open alignment with the “America First” movement. Political soothsayers will be watching.

Webb: As an essentially one-party state, we’ve always had divisions within the dominant party. The far-right and mainstream factions of the GOP have clashed off and on for many decades. Tension within a party, or among levels and branches of government, isn’t necessarily bad. The checks and balances usually produce compromise and, ultimately, better outcomes.

Today, however, an intense battle rages for the soul of the Utah Republican Party. Stark differences exist between the two factions, although both are plenty conservative. Sen. Mike Lee is overtly attempting to take control of the party and elect ultra-MAGA candidates.

The battle will continue on into the future, but Tuesday’s primary will begin to answer this big question: Is Utah a traditionally conservative state, or is it becoming an ultra-MAGA state?

Personally, as one who identifies mostly with the mainstream wing of the party, I hope and expect that the more centrist candidates will prevail. That’s critically important to preserve the United States’ role in the world. I believe far-right, isolationist politicians who oppose, for example, aid to Ukraine, would take the country in a very dangerous and vulnerable direction.

I believe a majority of Utah Republicans usually align with the mainstream. And, thankfully, the ability to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot has leveled the playing field so mainstream signature gatherers and far-right convention winners can compete fairly. Voters in many races have a real choice on Tuesday.

In the last several election cycles, Utahns have been mailing in their ballots later and almost on the eve of Election Day. How is this changing campaign tactics? Could this have an impact on the primary elections?

Pignanelli: For years, a third of ballots were returned within three days of receiving them. Now the largest tranche of ballots is submitted in the last three days before the election. Prior to “Vote by Mail,” some campaigns would release a hit piece against opponents just days before an election, leaving little time for responses. Mailing ballots essentially eliminated such “October surprises.” Because voters are holding ballots longer, a resurgence of these last-minute tactics is occurring. Also, delayed ballot returns cause more targeted mail, prolonged ad buys and phone calls nagging procrastinating voters — all costing bigger bucks.

Webb: Many casual voters don’t pay much attention to elections until they get their ballot in the mail. At that point, they begin to investigate the candidates, which takes longer in a multiple-candidate race. So candidates must campaign intensely and make their closing pitches right up to Election Day. Some contests will be very close, so fighting for every last vote will make the difference.

The mail-in ballot process is prompting the usual allegations about fraud. Should Utahns be worried about a stolen primary election?

Pignanelli: Utah’s chief election officer, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson (as did her predecessor, Gov. Spencer Cox), worked tirelessly with county clerks to establish the nation’s premier voting system.

7
Comments

Detractors claim fraudulent activities are rampant in the state. Utah has been using mail-in ballots for decades (especially for missionaries, military and the homebound elderly), but almost no documented instances of misconduct exist other than inappropriate signatures on mail-in ballots placed by well-meaning parents with children serving their country or faith outside the state.

With ballot-tracking software, voters know when their ballot was counted. Besides, why complain about a process that allows time to research candidates and ballot propositions and eventually vote in the comfort of a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers?

Webb: Please don’t believe the wacky conspiracy theories about election fraud. It will be a cheat-free election. Election workers and voters are human, so small mistakes may be made, but certainly not enough to change an election outcome.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah State Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.