Utah's GOP primary's turnout higher than expected
Tuesday's returns showed a higher-than-expected voter turnout among Republicans thanks to Mitt Romney on the GOP presidential ballot, a hotly contested showdown for longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch and a nail-biting GOP contest for Salt Lake County mayor.
Statewide, preliminary results showed a 37 percent turnout among Republican voters in both the presidential race and the contest for the U.S. Senate, said Mark Thomas, director of elections in the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
Four years ago, the statewide turnout for president among Republicans was 32 percent and statewide races clocked in at 8 percent.
In Salt Lake County, nearly 45 percent of registered Republicans cast ballots. But overall, only 17.1 percent of registered voters went to the polls. A tiny percentage of Democrats turned out, said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, since their party had only two legislative races on the ballot.
The office of Lt. Gov. Greg Bell reported Monday that 73,350 already had voted in the primary, or 4.9 percent of registered voters. Of them, 48,639 voted by mail and another 24,711 voted early at polling places.
Republicans handed Hatch the party's nod for a shot at a seventh term rather than giving former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist a stab at a first term in Washington. In Salt Lake County, former County Councilman Mark Crockett edged West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder for the GOP mayoral nod, but the razor-thin margin may mean the winner won't be known for days.
Salt Lake City resident Judy Patten said she cast her vote for Romney, Crockett and Hatch.
"I don't think Liljenquist can beat the Democrats," she said.
Michael Barnhurst, a Salt Lake City resident, said he also voted for Romney and Hatch. He said he likes Romney, a Mormon, and agrees with his religious views.
Barnhurst, 72, said he voted for Hatch because he views Liljenquist's public criticisms of the incumbent as petty.
Salt Lake City resident David May said he cast his vote for Ron Paul in the presidential primary and Liljenquist to "get rid of" Hatch.
Crockett got Dennis Engle's vote in the county mayor's race. The Salt Lake City resident said the controversy surrounding Winder's alias affected his vote. He called the current West Valley City mayor "deceptive."
"He didn't represent himself well with how it all unfolded," Engle said.
Winder earlier this year used the pen name Richard Burwash to write pro-West Valley City articles for news outlets.
Brennan Smith contributed to this story.