A move by Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson to help candidates who seek to qualify for the ballot by gathering signatures is infuriating the party’s right wing — again.
Those conservatives instead seek a full return to the caucus-convention system where delegates choose nominees, or at least narrow the field. They are behind ongoing party lawsuits challenging SB54, the new law that allows candidates to get on the ballot through the convention, by gathering signatures or both..
As party factions squabble, Anderson sent an email this week to potential candidates offering free use of a party smartphone app that identifies whether voters are Republicans or Democrats, and how strong their support is.
“It is invaluable whether you are gathering signatures or canvassing your neighbors during your campaign,” Anderson emailed.
“There is a disconnect between elected delegates and some leaders in the party.”
— Don Guymon, conservative member of the GOP State Central Committee.
That wording upsets the party’s right wing, which has waged continuing battles with Anderson — who has sought middle ground between party conservatives and moderates (and big donors) who say delegates usually are too far to the right and nominate candidates who are outside the political mainstream.
“It is frustrating to those of us who continue to support our caucus system to see our chair send out an email encouraging people who are working with signature-gathering companies to use a piece of technology to bypass the caucus system,” said Phill Wright, former party vice chairman and a leading opponent of SB54.
“So, yes, there were a lot of raised eyebrows when he sent that email,” Wright said.
“We’re suing on one hand and helping candidates gather signatures on the other hand,” complained Don Guymon, another right-wing member of the state GOP central committee. “I think there is a disconnect between elected delegates and some leaders in the party.”
Meanwhile, Anderson is “not worried at all” about any party backlash. He said he is simply offering technology that could help all GOP candidates, no matter what system they use to qualify for the ballot.
“What is more grassroots than going door-to-door and talking to people?” he said.
The app — using voter registration, donation histories and other data — shows the voters registered at every household, which party they support, and how strongly.
“If you’re a Republican and you go to a door, you can tell if they are a vote you can swing. If it’s a hard Democrat and you’re not going to be able to swing it, don’t bother — go to the next door,” he said.
Anderson said the app also allows campaigns to track whether other party workers have already visited a home to avoid duplicating efforts. He said the party hopes to make use of that in a competitive congressional race between Republican Rep. Mia Love and Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
“I think it’s a great resource and it’s as grassroots as it gets,” Anderson said.
Candidates who plan to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot began filing for office this week. As of Friday, 30 Republicans had filed to do that for federal or state offices — including some conservatives who previously have attacked SB54.
Some county parties have previously used their resources against candidates who used the signature-gathering method. But new U.S. Rep. John Curtis showed its value when he used signature gathering to qualify for the ballot, even though party delegates had rejected him at convention. Curtis easily won the primary and general election anyway.
Wright said, “I think it’s unfortunate that any candidate is in a position where they now feel it [gathering signatures] is the wise thing to do. I don’t fault a candidate for doing that. It is the law now” although ongoing lawsuits are challenging it.
“I think it’s a personal decision. Obviously, if I were a candidate, I would feel quite hypocritical if I were doing that considering my outspoken stance against the signature path. But I don’t fault a candidate if they feel like they need to do that,” Wright said.