The Dust Settles on UT-3’s GOP Primary

by John English

Until now, we haven’t seen much effect from SB54, the bill that allows candidate to still get on a primary ballot even if they don’t make it in the top two at the convention. This is now only the second GOP primary in Utah where a signature gatherer defeated at convention beat the top vote-getter, and we will feel the repercussions for a while.

This was a strange one, in that Jason Chaffetz resigned in the middle of his term, and Gov. Herbert butted heads with then Utah GOP-chair James Evans on how to handle it. As a delegate, I was surprised that there was a proposal at all to make the threshold to make the primary ballot 50%+1 instead of the usual 60%, and that it passed. I voted against it.

A few weeks later, we reaped the rewards. As I spoke with people in my precinct, I heard three names: Deidre Henderson, Margaret Dayton, Brad Daw. Going into convention, with this exceptional winner-take-all vote, I went with Henderson. I pegged her as one who could well represent our district while still being able to beat the two signature-gatherer opponents – Provo mayor John Curtis and Danny Ainge’s son Tanner.

Leading up to the convention, Henderson received more negative attacks than any other candidate. She was the frontrunner. Chris Herrod managed to ride the anti-Henderson wave better than Dayton, and there’s rumblings that many of Curtis’s delegates threw their support to Herrod because they figured he’d be easier to beat, but with private voting, there’s no way to confirm that.

So after convention we had three candidates. Chris Herrod wound up with 55% of the delegates, and you had Curtis and Ainge. I did see a lot of immediate calls for voters to respect the delegates’ decision of picking Herrod. After all, we the delegates have been chosen by our neighbors to do our research and make the best choice. I was among the 45% of delegates that went with Henderson, and I didn’t see much outreach after that. When I looked at Curtis, Herrod and Ainge, I decided to vote for Curtis.

One of the main reasons many of us were against the Count My Vote initiative was it seemed like a way for rich people to get around the caucus system. And yeah, Tanner Ainge’s mom set up a PAC and put $250,000 into it to help him out. (I’d expect no less from my mom if she could afford it.) Chris Herrod received several $100,000s on his own from SuperPACs, primarily Club for Growth. So Curtis won despite having the least amount of money spent post-convention.

It’s always tough to lose, but I see the cry of certain Herrod supporters as “They went against the will of the delegates!” Personally I view my job as a delegate to winnow the field down to the best two candidates to go into the GOP primary, and I think voters would have more faith in the caucus system if the threshold was set at 65% instead of 60%. (Let’s never do 50%+1 again.) With the extra wrinkle of the signature route, there has to be more strategy at convention. Not only are we trying to find the best candidates, but the ones who could best win a general primary if a signature-only candidate is trying to coast on name recognition and out-of-state money.

The signature route also means that we don’t get a clear winner in the primary. John Curtis won 43% of the vote, meaning 57% voted for someone else. The convention winner only got 32% of the vote.

John Curtis will be our next Congressman. Dr. Kathie Allen has raked in a lot of out-of-state money, but as we saw from this race, that doesn’t mean much if people don’t like your message. I’m positive National Horizon PAC lost Herrod more votes than it won. Jim Bennett might have been able to make some noise if someone more conservative than Curtis had won. I see no room for him now.

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