Eighteen of the 99 Utah legislative candidates competing in contested county party convention races this Saturday face no real worries at all. Delegates cannot eliminate them, and they will advance no matter what.
That’s because they gathered enough voter signatures to qualify for the primary election, thanks to a 2014 election law that created a dual path to the ballot — through the caucus-convention system and/or by gathering signatures.
So, for example, if Democratic delegates have a preferred candidate to replace retiring Salt Lake City Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, well, tough. Four Democratic candidates already have reached the June primary ballot.
That doesn’t mean conventions this Saturday will lack drama. Delegates still may oust any or all of the 81 other candidates who did not collect signatures and prevent them from proceeding to the primary.
If a convention candidate (including those who already qualified by collecting signatures) wins 60 percent of delegate votes, all other convention-only candidates are eliminated. Otherwise, the top two candidates advance to the primary — plus anyone who qualified by gathering signatures.
Eleven legislative incumbents are in contested races this weekend in GOP and Democratic conventions in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties.
Three incumbents gathered enough signatures to qualify for the primary no matter what happens at the conventions: Reps. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City; Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful; and Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton.
Other Republican incumbents in contested races Saturday include: Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Holladay, and Reps. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan; Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan; Cory Maloy, R-Lehi; Brad Daw, R-Orem; Norm Thurston, R-Provo; and Marc Roberts, R-Salem.
Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, is the only Democratic incumbent now facing a convention challenge. However, Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Millcreek, on Thursday withdrew from what appeared to be a tough convention race for him.
Each legislative district has about 60 to 80 convention delegates, which allows candidates to give them plenty of one-on-one attention — and free meals and movies, while one candidate even tried to use hot-air balloon rides to court them but high wind prevented that.
For example, disclosure forms show that Republican Brad Bonham, who is running for the Utah House in Draper, spent $1,576 to treat delegates in his district to a private showing of “The Greatest Showman” at the Jordan Commons Megaplex in Sandy.
“He wanted it to be a family-friendly event, so spouses and kids were invited,” said Don Willie, Bonham’s campaign manager. “There were 86 people total” and 30 or so delegates. Bonham talked to the crowd before the movie and stayed afterward to answer questions.
Forms show Bonham also spent $309 at Granite Pizza for food for another meet-and-greet event. Willie said he also treated some to food in small-group meetings, and invited their families to another ice cream event at the Last Course dessert bar.
David Werts, the Republican challenging Bonham for the seat being vacated by Rep. LaVar Christensen, spent $150 to take delegates to a meet-and-greet at an IHOP restaurant. Bonham has outraised Werts $31,693 to $816.
Among wooing of delegates by incumbents, Maloy spent $286 at Apple Spice catering for a lunch and tour of the state Capitol he held for delegates.
Ivory spent $391 on food for a delegate barbecue; Gibson spent $157 to take delegates to the Shoga Japanese restaurant; and Zehnder spent $138 for food at a meet-and-greet. Winder attempted the hot-air balloon rides, but because of high wind, delegates settled for doughnuts and chocolate milk from Winder Farms.
Some candidates gave money to firms that collect signatures to secure spots on the ballot. Others, like Democrats Jen Dailey-Provost and Igor Limansky, amassed more than $20,000, much of which will be spent in the time between the convention and the primary election.
Top legislative races
Here are some of the more interesting races at county conventions Saturday:
Northern Salt Lake City, House District 24 • Seven Democrats are running for a seat being vacated by Chavez-Houck, one of the relatively few safe Democratic seats in the state.
The four who have collected the necessary 2,000 signatures to advance to a primary are Dailey-Provost, Limansky, Darin Mann and Jacquelyn Orton (widow of the late U.S. Rep. Bill Orton).
It is one of the more expensive races in the state. For example, Dailey-Provost spent $17,355; Limansky spent $14,757; Orton spent $3,291; and Mann spent $1,332.
Capitol Hill, Salt Lake City, Senate District 2 • For a safe Democratic seat being vacated by Dabakis, seven more Democrats are competing in the convention.
Two have collected enough signatures to advance to a primary: Jennifer Plumb and Derek Kitchen.
It also is one of the more expensive races in either party. Shawn Robinson loaned his campaign $20,000 and spent $15,756; Kitchen raised nearly $23,000 and spent $11,148; Plumb spent $8,480; Nadia Mahallati (seeking to become the first Iranian-American legislator in Utah) spent $2,987.
West Valley City, House District 30 • Incumbent Winder faces a rematch with former GOP Rep. Fred Cox, whom he unseated two years ago.
Winder has collected enough signatures to survive the convention, so only Cox faces elimination there. Cox is among the ultraconservatives on the state GOP Central Committee who have pushed lawsuits seeking to do away with the signature-gathering route to the ballot.
Cox contends Winder is not conservative, and a moderate at best. Winder says he’s a common-sense conservative most able to hold the House seat for Republicans in one of Utah’s few true swing districts.
Cox says he listens better to concerns of constituents, while Winder says he is best able to pass bills and bring more power to a district that has often been underserved by the state. Winder has outraised Cox this year $2,988 to $288.
Bountiful, House District 19 • Much like the Winder-Cox race in West Valley City, this race features an incumbent — Ray Ward — who has gathered enough signatures to proceed to a primary. His challenger, Phill Wright, is among the ultraconservatives pushing to outlaw signature collection.
Conservatives who dislike signature collection may battle against Ward.
Cottonwood Heights, Senate District 8 • Newly appointed Sen. Zehnder is challenged by Jaren L. Davis. He has attacked Zehnder as too liberal because voting studies this year showed he had a slightly left-of-center voting record, and was the Republican who most often sided with Democrats in party-line votes.
However, they live in a truly swing district that Democrats could win — so a moderate voting record could be help there. Kathie Allen, who unsuccessfully challenged Republican John Curtis to replace Jason Chaffetz in the U.S. House last year, is running for the seat. Allen faces Kathleen Riebe at the Democratic convention.
Millcreek, House District 40 • Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Millcreek, dropped out of his convention race Thursday. He had missed all of the 2018 Legislature because he was in New York helping his wife who became ill there.
He said he withdrew because of his wife’s continuing poor health. “Life is always unpredictable,” he said, “and sometimes we have to make difficult decisions.”
He had been challenged for the Democratic nomination by Stephanie Pitcher, who had collected enough signatures to qualify for the primary election. Pitcher also had raised $2,859 compared to $425 for Hemingway.
Correction: Friday, April 13, 12:30 p.m. • Rep. Cory Maloy spent $286 at Apple Spice catering for a lunch and tour of the state Capitol he held for delegates. An earlier version incorrectly attributed this expenditure to another lawmaker.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly attributed a $286 catering expense to Rep. Ray Ward. The expense was by Rep. Cory Maloy.