A Republican primary election win this week by a moderate mayor seeking to replace Jason Chaffetz in Congress shows once again that Utah’s new dual-track political nominating system allows more moderate candidates to win GOP nominations in Utah even if they don’t win the vote of far-right leaning delegates at party conventions.
Provo Mayor John Curtis won Tuesday’s primary election two months after losing the party convention to more conservative former lawmaker Chris Herrod.
Curtis’s win came a year after Gov. Gary Herbert won his primary after losing at the convention. In 2010, longtime Sen. Bob Bennet was ousted at the convention.
Curtis and Herbert won their primaries by taking advantage of a backup route that Utah didn’t offer in 2010 — circumvent the convention by gathering voter signatures to earn a place on a primary election ballot.
Count My Vote, a group that pushed for the signature-gathering path, said the victories by Curtis and Herbert show that the small fraction of Republicans voting at party conventions aren’t representative of most rank-and-file GOP voters.
Organizers are again considering whether to run a ballot initiative to abandon the use of party nominating conventions after the GOP filed legal challenges to the law creating the signature-gathering route, said Rich McKeown, the executive chairman of Count My Vote. GOP delegates have also spurned candidates specifically for bypassing the convention.
Count My Vote originally planned a ballot initiative in 2014 but walked away from the plan after Utah legislators agreed to pass a law allowing candidates to run for the party nomination by gathering signatures, winning at party conventions or trying their luck through both routes.
McKeown said efforts to undermine the law have led the group’s organizers to reconsider pushing for a ballot initiative for Utah to rely on primary elections — as many other states do.
Defenders of the convention system say it allows delegates, who are selected to vote on behalf of their local neighborhood party members, to more thoroughly vet candidates. Defenders also argue the system allows candidates without deep pockets to compete by pitching themselves in small meetings with delegates instead of paying to blanket the airwaves with campaign ads.
New Utah GOP chairman Rob Anderson, who has suggested the party consider dropping its costly legal challenges of the signature-gathering law, said that while Republican delegates have picked more extreme candidates, there were other factors at play in Curtis, Herbert and Bennett’s races that led to their convention losses.
Anderson declined to say what steps his party plans to take and when, but he said the Utah GOP could make changes that boost participation, such as allowing Republicans to vote online to choose their local delegates.