By Jim EllisApril 28, 2020 — The Beehive State Republicans and Democrats gathered in respective virtual settings to conduct their nominating conventions on Saturday and posted record delegate participation figures. Both parties were looking to advance candidates into an open Utah gubernatorial primary and in four congressional districts where three incumbents are seeking re-election. A total of 93 percent of 3,850 eligible Republican delegates cast their votes online, while 85 percent of the 2,203 Democratic delegates did the same.
In both parties, if a candidate receives 60 percent of the delegate support the individual is automatically advanced into the June 30 primary election. This year, the vote will be conducted through an all-mail procedure under emergency legislation that Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed on Friday. Additionally, candidates who have qualified through the signature petition process also earn a primary ballot position. Candidates have the choice of only participating in the convention, only gathering signatures, or doing both.
If no one receives 60 percent, the top two finishers advance into the primary. The delegates used the ranked choice format to prioritize their votes, since multiple rounds were needed in most races. In a round, the last place candidate is eliminated and the remainder advance to the next vote. The process ends with either one candidate advancing to the primary ballot outright, or the top two moving forward if no one reaches 60 percent but a pair at least touch 40 percent.
The open Republican gubernatorial race was the main attraction as seven candidates competed for convention votes including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has retiring Gov. Herbert’s endorsement and leads in the most recent polling, and former governor, US ambassador, and 2012 presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.
The two candidates advancing from the convention vote are Lt. Gov. Cox and former state House speaker Greg Hughes. The lieutenant governor captured 53 percent on the fifth round of voting versus Hughes’ 43 percent. Huntsman, not a favorite among the delegates, was the second candidate to be eliminated, as he placed last in the second round. He had difficulty qualifying with petition signatures but did secure a ballot position.
Also advancing from the petition option is former Utah Republican Party chairman Thomas Wright, whose lieutenant governor running mate is retiring 1st District congressman, Rob Bishop (R-Brigham City). The convention results mean that the June 30 Republican primary election will feature Lt. Gov. Cox, Hughes, Huntsman, and Wright.
For the Democrats, law professor Chris Peterson, who has Washington experience in working for the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau during the Obama Administration, captured 88 percent of the delegate vote against five opponents and he becomes the Democratic nominee in November. None of the Democratic candidates exercised the signature petition option, so there is no primary election.
In the open 1st Congressional District, a dozen Republicans battled for the nomination and the right to succeed Bishop who will leave Congress after nine terms. The process consumed 11 rounds of voting until former state agriculture commissioner Kerry Gibson (53 percent) and retired foreign service officer Barry Moore (40 percent) emerged from the crowded field. Gibson is also a former state representative and ex-county commissioner.
Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson and Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt had previously qualified through petition signature. Therefore, the four contenders will advance to the June 30 GOP primary. The winner of that contest becomes the prohibitive favorite to claim the US House seat in the general election.
Darren Perry, the chairman of the Shoshone Indian Tribe, and Jamie Cheek, a state vocation rehabilitation administrator, advance into the Democratic party’s 1st District primary election. Perry placed first among the delegates with 56 percent of their votes, missing outright nomination by just four percentage points.
Second District Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Farmington) was re-nominated with 71 percent of the vote, defeating three opponents, none of whom chose the petition option. With 83 percent of the Democratic convention vote, former State Department official and college professor Kael Weston wins the Democratic nomination and faces an uphill challenge against four-term Rep. Stewart in November.
Third District Congressman John Curtis (R-Provo) topped his sole GOP opponent with 66 percent of the delegate vote, and he becomes the prohibitive favorite in the general election. Democratic delegates nominated non-profit group founder Devin Thorpe with 82 percent of the vote.
The Democrats unsurprisingly gave 89 percent of their delegate support to 4th Congressional District freshman Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Salt Lake City), who tested positive for COVID-19 last month. With no one qualifying through the signature process, Rep. McAdams is re-nominated.
For the Republicans, with three candidates already qualifying through the petition signature route, radio talk show host Jay Mcfarland, non-profit CEO Trent Christensen, and businessman and former NFL football player Burgess Owens, two received qualifying votes from the virtual convention.
State Rep. Kim Coleman (R-West Jordan), who only chose the convention qualifying option, placed first at the end of voting with 54 percent followed by Owens who had 45 percent. Adding those who qualified via petition, Coleman and Owens, Mcfarland and Christensen will compete in the June 30 primary with the winner advancing to meet Rep. McAdams in the Autumn election.
The 4th District general election will be a highly competitive contest and is one of the GOP’s top national conversion targets.