Now that the GOP presidential campaign is virtually over, the congressional primaries are taking center stage. This coming weekend at the Utah state Republican convention, several important contests will pass decision points.
Thirty-six year veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch is fighting for renomination to a seventh term. Nine GOP candidates are mounting convention challenges to Hatch, who knows all too well the fate of his former seat mate, Bob Bennett. Two years ago, Sen. Bennett was denied renomination at the 2010 version of this convention by failing to tally even 40 percent of the delegate vote. To win the nomination this Saturday, one candidate must garner 60 percent of the convention votes cast. If no one reaches this plateau, then the top two candidates between 40-59 percent will face each other in a June 26 primary election.
The county conventions chose the approximately 3,500 state delegates who will cast these votes on Saturday. Before 2010, the average statewide turnout at county conventions numbered in the 30,000 range. In 2010, because of the challenge to Sen. Bennett, turnout swelled to about 75,000. This year, the participation rate was even higher, with more than 125,000 individuals attending the local meetings. Sen. Hatch himself was partially responsible for the turnout increase as he implemented an aggressive program to encourage his supporters to attend for purposes of sending Hatch voters to the state convention.
It is likely that the senator’s main opponent is former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Other notable candidates among the nine are state Rep. Chris Herrod and radio talk show host Tim Aalders, the latter of whom enjoys some Tea Party support. The most likely scenario is the delegates providing enough challenger votes to other candidates thus denying Hatch the 60 percent mark, meaning a primary will ensue. In a statewide election format, the senator will have a strong advantage both in terms of name familiarity, obviously, and campaign resources.
Utah House Races
UT-2: Eleven candidates are vying for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. This seat is partially represented by Democrat Jim Matheson (about 40 percent of the new 2nd contains current UT-2 population), but he decided to run in the new District 4. Therefore, it is possible the convention could be choosing a new congressman Saturday as the eventual Republican nominee is virtually assured of winning in November. Among the top candidates here are former state House Speaker David Clark, conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar, businessman Bob Fuehr, author Chris Stewart, and retired trucking executive Howard Wallack. Three of these candidates (and all five are at parity at least in terms of fundraising) will be eliminated Saturday.
UT-4: In the reapportionment-created 4th District, a new poll shows Rep. Matheson to be highly vulnerable. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted a survey April 9-11 of 625 registered voters in the district. They found the congressman leading state Rep. Carl Wimmer (R) by only a razor-thin 46-45 percent margin. Against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), possibly the most interesting candidate in the race because a young African-American conservative Republican could quickly develop a national following if elected, Matheson leads only 46-42 percent. The third pairing, with state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R), gives the incumbent a 47-41 percent advantage. A Republican primary is a possibility as all three of the polled candidates appear to have political strength. It is clear the eventual winner will be in strong position to challenge Matheson in what promises to be a competitive general election. Matheson has won a highly Republican-leaning 2nd District throughout the previous decade; it is, in fact, now the most Republican seat in the nation to have Democratic representation. But the new 4th District is comprised of a constituency two-thirds of whom are new to him. Legislative Republicans drew the congressional map to produce a 4R-0D delegation. We shall soon see if that is achieved.