Curtis Poole loves politics. He obsessed about them as a kid watching Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan duke it out for the presidency in 1984 and thought a bit about being a participant in the process for years after that.
Until one day — March 15 to be exact — the 39-year-old Woods Cross man stood up at his neighborhood Republican caucus, gave a one-minute speech focused on smaller government and a strong national defense — and took the plunge. He ran for GOP state delegate.
And what exactly did the first-time delegate win? A stack of mailers almost six inches high, hundreds of phone calls from candidates and the chance to be among a relatively small group (4,000) who will have a big say in picking the Republican nominee for governor, attorney general, U.S. senator and 2nd Congressional District representative.
“By Saturday, I want to know who I’m going to vote for,” Poole said recently. “Right now, I’m still undecided on some of the races.”
That meant John Swallow, candidate for attorney general, looked to be closing the deal with Poole at an IHOP in Centerville on Tuesday night. Swallow, the current chief deputy in Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s Office, leaned over a table lined with syrup bottles and jam packets and shook Poole’s hand.
“Nice to see you, Chris,” Swallow said.
Poole corrected him. It wouldn’t turn out to be a fatal error.
“I think I’m leaning toward him,” he said after Swallow spent about 45 minutes talking to the dozen delegates while Poole digested strawberry crepes, whipped cream and political rhetoric.
But then he brought up Sean Reyes, who is running against Swallow. Reyes had called Poole personally while Swallow leaned on robo-calls. Poole liked Reyes personally and was slightly concerned by a line Swallow had delivered: that the political ambition to run only took hold recently with the passage of President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care bill and Utah’s fight to possess land owned by the federal government.
Poole noted Swallow had run for Congress twice and lost.
So, he asked the candidate about political ambition.
“Is that a bad thing?” Swallow asked, before explaining how he thought those bids were the right ones at the time and now saw being the state’s top lawyer as the best fit for his skills.
Poole accepted the answer. He just wasn’t sure how he’d vote Saturday.
Budding interest • Born in Idaho, Poole said he grew up watching Salt Lake City-based television stations and, for years, assumed his state senators were Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn and his governor was Scott Matheson.
He went to the University of Utah — though he cheers for Brigham Young University out of obligation to a Cougar-based family — and served an LDS Church mission to Ecuador. It was there he cast his first ballot for President George H. W. Bush in 1992.
Now he’s in North Salt Lake City trying to decide who to vote for in the crowded race for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.
“This is the toughest one,” Poole said.
Sitting in the city council chambers for a debate sponsored by the Davis County Young Republicans earlier this month, Poole and his wife, Lori, listened to six candidates weigh in on reducing the deficit.
He said he’d narrowed his choices to Chris Stewart, the Glenn Beck-inspired candidate who has written several books and touts his military experience, and David Clark, Utah’s former House speaker, a banker.
But Lori Poole, who has gone with her husband to 21 of 22 events in the last five weeks, gently reminded him about Cherilyn Eagar, the only woman in the field.
“I like how she has been in some of the big fights at all levels,” she said.
He agreed and said the two of them have spent an inordinate amount of time talking about candidates over the past five weeks. They said their three children — 17, 15 and 12 — have become savvy about the campaign, though the 12-year-old girl is the only one who chimes in with thoughts on the races.
With all of their input, Poole agreed Eagar, Clark and Stewart all still had a shot with him.
The pitches • Among the things Poole has learned in the race for Senate is that Orrin Hatch believes Mitt Romney wants him to be finance chairman, Chris Herrod has strong ties to the Ukraine and Dan Liljenquist thinks it’s time for new blood in Washington.
“They all have their regular talking points,” he said. “I’ve heard Swallow’s garage analogy a few times. You hear the same jokes.”
But the Senate race was the easiest one for Poole to pick. He sided with Liljenquist early. Within the first week, in fact.
“I liked what he had to say,” Poole said. “Besides, if Washington is broken, why would we keep sending the same people back there to fix it?”
And Hatch linking to Romney didn’t help either. Poole has been slow to warm to the former Massachusetts governor and worried about the perception of him being a flip-flopper and not truly conservative. But he said he’ll vote for him and thinks that Romney at the top of the ticket will help Republicans overall in Utah.
Who will be on the ballot beneath likely candidates Obama and Romney, however, will be up to him and fellow delegates.
And Poole was still struggling two days before the convention.
He met with Reyes Thursday morning and was impressed. He said he’s “strongly” leaning toward him now, noting endorsements from lawyers for Reyes and politicians for Swallow. Thursday night, he met with Clark.
The long nights of wading through materials, listening to pitches and being treated like the most popular kid in school has been “a great experience,” and he couldn’t think of anything he didn’t really like about it all.
However, he said the next time around, he might leave the gig to someone else.
“I’d like to see others get a chance at it,” Poole said. “It’s an experience I think everyone should have.”
Where, when • The state GOP Convention is set to begin 10 a.m. Saturday at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy.
Governor • Gary Herbert, Morgan Philpot, David Kirkham, Kenneth Sumsion, Lane Ronnow, William Skokos
U.S. Senate • Orrin Hatch, Dan Liljenquist, Chris Herrod, Kevin Fisk, Loy Brunson, Dale Ash, Timothy Aalders, William “Dub” Lawrence, David Chiu, Jeremy Friedbaum
1st Congressional District • Rob Bishop, Jacqueline Smith, Leonard Fabiano
2nd District • Chris Stewart, David Clark, Cherilyn Eagar, Jason Buck, Bob Fuehr, Chuck Williams, John Willoughby, Howard Wallack, Edward Mayerhofer, Jeramey McElhaney, Milton Hanks
3rd District • Jason Chaffetz, Lynn Wardle, Brian Jenkins
4th District • Mia Love, Carl Wimmer, Stephen Sandstrom, Jay Cobb, Kenneth Gray
Attorney general • John Swallow, Sean Reyes
State auditor • Auston Johnson, John Dougall
Where, when: The state Democratic Party Convention is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.
U.S. Senate• Pete Ashdown, Scott Howell
1st Congressional District • Ryan Combe, Donna McAleer
2nd District• Jay Seegmiller, Dean Collinwood, Michael Small
3rd District • Soren Simonsen, Richard Clark