The Utah Republican Party’s efforts to turn thousands of voters out for neighborhood caucuses got a $100,000 boost from the Republican Governors Association — a cash infusion that may have helped Gov. Gary Herbert fend off GOP challengers.
The association bankrolled a third of the state party’s caucus-turnout effort, which prompted 140,000-plus Republicans to flock to their neighborhood meetings, more than doubling the record set in 2010.
“When they found out what we were doing, they said they wanted to support it,” said Ivan DuBois, executive director of the Utah Republican Party. “Where the money comes from and who gives it to us is not our concern. We raise money to do a plan. If our goals were similar [with Herbert’s], then that worked out for both of us.”
The Herbert campaign arranged the meeting between the governors’ group and the Utah Republican Party, said Scott Ericson, Herbert’s campaign manager. It was the state party that asked for the funding.
“Anything we can do to spur turnout at a caucus meeting and increase participation is a good thing,” Ericson said Monday. “[Governor Herbert] is the leader of the party. He wants Republicans to get out and participate and be there and be part of the process.”
The party made 14,000 phone calls, distributed 20,000 yard signs, passed out 260,000 door hangers across the state urging people to attend the mid-March caucuses.
Herbert rolled to a big victory a month later at the state convention, clinching the nomination. Six-term Sen. Orrin Hatch fell 32 votes short of snagging the party nod outright and faces a June 26 primary against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.
“It got a lot of people out, no question. It had an effect,” said David Kirkham, a failed GOP candidate for governor. “I think by and large it was an advantage to the Herberts and Hatches of the world. Just look at the vote.”
Quin Monson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said the delegates elected at caucus night in 2012 were very different ideologically than the 2010 batch. That was the year a flood of tea party-affiliated groups rallied to oust three-term GOP Sen. Bob Bennett.
A Utah Foundation survey of delegates found that in 2012 the Republican delegates viewed seniority in Congress as an asset and held more moderate political views on a variety of topics.
But what made the biggest difference in the caucuses this time around? Was it the party? Was it Hatch’s efforts to mobilize thousands of supporters on caucus night? Or was it the repeated admonitions from the state’s predominant faith, the LDS Church, urging Mormons to attend their caucuses?
“The difficulty is: Whose money mattered?” Monson asked. “And the answer is that all of it probably mattered.”
In addition to the $100,000 from the Republican Governors Association, Herbert’s campaign also kicked in $25,000 to the caucus-turnout effort.
Several prominent Hatch backers also contributed sizable sums toward the state party’s efforts.
The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care donated about $175,000 to the Utah Republican Party in the year leading up to the GOP caucuses, The Associated Press reported last month. The money was used for voter-registration efforts, vote-by-mail campaigns and caucus-boosting bids.