By Jim Ellis
May 23, 2017 — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) just scheduled the special election to replace resigning Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy), and the candidate filing deadline will occur even before the congressman leaves office.
Chaffetz announced last week that he will resign from the House effective June 30. It was thought there would be a battle over the UT-3 special election process because Utah election law sets no procedure parameters. The state has not hosted a special federal election since 1930.
Utah election law merely says that a special election will be scheduled in the event of a vacancy. Some in the legislature are indicating that they need to be called into special session to determine the procedure, i.e., primary schedule, whether a nominating convention will be held, etc.
But over the weekend, Gov. Herbert usurped such an idea and had Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) publicly announce the special election schedule.
Giving potential candidates almost no time to decide whether to run, the candidate filing deadline is already set for this Friday, May 26. Partisan primaries are scheduled for Aug. 15, with the general election on Nov. 7. The action signals, obviously, that Gov. Herbert will not call the legislature back into session and leaves those disagreeing with the process only the option of filing a legal challenge. It is an open question as to whether the political parties could schedule their own nominating conventions prior to the special primary, thus emulating the process the state employs during the regular election cycle.
The state is safely Republican; in fact, Hillary Clinton failed to even come in second last November, trailing both Donald Trump and Independent Evan McMullin. Therefore, all the early action is within the GOP.
Four individuals have already announced their candidacies, all Republicans: state senators Deidre Henderson and Margaret Dayton, along with state Reps. Brad Daw and Chris Herrod. The latter man challenged Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) for re-nomination in 2012. Provo Mayor John Curtis is a potential candidate, as is Tanner Ainge, son of Boston Celtics basketball club president and former Brigham Young University star Danny Ainge.
McMullin, who was a late entry in the presidential race trying in vain to derail Trump’s campaign, is also a possible candidate. He would likely draw personal strong opposition if he chooses to run as a Republican or an Independent.
The field may winnow down especially if the state GOP does not schedule a nominating convention. The petition signature requirement to qualify for the ballot is daunting: 7,000 valid party member signatures to be submitted by June 12. This is no easy task for any campaign just now forming.
Gov. Herbert’s quick action means we will see a great deal of activity during the next couple of weeks, and then in the months to follow. The eventual Republican nominee will become a prohibitive favorite to win the November 7th special general election.
Continuing the fast action theme, South Carolina election officials have already completed the mandated recount for the May 16 special Republican run-off election. The original count found former state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman outpacing state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope by just 221 votes. The two finished only 135 votes apart in the May 2 special primary election.
Surprisingly, the recount produced no change in the final totals, and Norman’s 221-vote victory remains in tact. The totals will become official since Pope has conceded the race and endorsed Norman. Therefore, thre certification process will begin, and we now proceed to the special general election on June 20.
Norman will face former Wall Street executive Archie Parnell (D) in the special general. The new Republican nominee becomes the prohibitive favorite in this campaign, one in which national Democratic Party leaders have so far paid scant attention.