Utah Republicans hold final caucuses under current system
By Lee Davidson
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 20 2014 09:28AM
Utah Republicans plan to gather Thursday night in neighborhood caucus meetings to elect 4,000 delegates to their state convention, and begin the 2014 election season officially.
Meetings begin at 7 p.m. Locations can be found online at utgop.org. Democrats met on Tuesday, and smaller parties do not use caucuses in Utah.
If GOP candidates can win 60 percent of delegate votes at convention, they proceed directly to the final election. Otherwise, the top two meet in a primary election.
The Thursday caucuses are likely to be the final ones held under the current caucus-convention system. Gov. Gary Herbert this month signed into law HB54, which will allow caucuses and conventions to continue, but also allows candidates to bypass them and gain direct access to a primary election if they gather enough signatures.
That was a compromise between parties and the Count My Vote initiative, which sought to replace the caucus-convention system with a direct primary.
Count My Vote contends that the normally lightly attended caucuses can easily be controlled by small extremists groups. That’s what it says happened four years ago when the tea party dumped 18-year incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, even though polls show he likely easily would have won a primary.
To help encourage attendance, the LDS Church canceled all meetings that interfere with caucuses and has read letters over the pulpit for weeks encouraging attendance. The GOP also has been running a variety of ads and conducting "robocalls" to encourage attendance.
"It’s important that everyone attend," says Utah Republican Chairman James Evans, "so that our delegates will reflect the sentiments of our larger Republican population."
Of note, Evans has said that after its April 26 convention, the party will consider whether to challenge SB54 in court as a possible violation of its rights to determine how it selects its own nominees.