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David Kirkham, a founder of the conservative Utah tea party movement and a GOP candidate for governor, said tea partyers welcome wider involvement in caucuses, even if light participation may have helped his group depose Bennett.
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To read the letter from the LDS Church First Presidency, go to http://scr.bi/wm3typ
"I hope 100,000 people show up," he said.
Kirkham added that, in 2009 and 2010, he traveled the state seeking such participation. "We didn’t tell people how to vote, just to show up and vote their heart. Of course, we figured they would oppose Bennett if they did."
Bennett said participation was greater in 2010 after a somewhat similar LDS Church letter, "but most of the people who showed up were still activists." He said caucuses were also held the same day President Barack Obama signed new health care legislation, "so people expressed their anger by going after all incumbents, including me." Such groups now seem to focus their anger mostly on Obama himself, Bennett said, "so [Sen.] Orrin [Hatch] should probably be OK this year."
Hatch, a Republican seeking a seventh term in Washington, faces an intraparty challenge from state Rep. Chris Herrod and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.
Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said the LDS letter "will increase attendance. ... The more attendance we have, the more indicative of the population the caucus meetings will be. That’s healthy for the system. We want all types of Republicans to feel represented in our caucus meetings."
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis also said the move should boost participation, but was "thrilled" with another part of the First Presidency letter. It said, "Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of the various political parties. We encourage members to attend their precinct caucus meetings."
"It clearly opens the door," Dabakis said, "for people who are faithful LDS to feel very compatible in the Democratic Party, and that helps to allay that horrible myth that you can’t be a Democrat and a Mormon. Clearly, that’s not true."
He noted that Utah voter turnout went from among the top in the nation in recent decades to second-to-last in 2010. "This is a crisis situation in the state of Utah," Dabakis said, adding that the First Presidency letter could help change that.
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