Occasionally, The Salt Lake Tribune’s political reporters and columnists chat about the hottest topics of the week. The following is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation on Tuesday’s primary election in Utah, which includes the Senate Republican primary between Mitt Romney and Mike Kennedy and the 3rd District Republican primary between John Curtis and Chris Herrod.
Taylor Anderson (government reporter): Welcome to this week’s Trib Caucus Slack chat, which we started during the legislative session and will keep going throughout the year. We’re hosting one today, the day before Utah’s primary, to highlight the races voters should watch out for and what they mean.
There are two races for big seats — Mitt Romney vs. Rep. Mike Kennedy and U.S. Rep. John Curtis vs. Chris Herrod.
Benjamin Wood (government reporter): No small races, only small candidates?
Anderson: Two impending bloodbaths no?
Robert Gehrke (political columnist): Well, never count out the feisty underdog ... except in these two instances.
Anderson: The Curtis race is interesting because last time around it was a three-way race. Now it’s just him and Herrod, but polls still show voters are rejecting Herrod.
Gehrke: I believe I’m polling six points ahead of Mike Kennedy. And I’m not sure that Chris Herrod has actually campaigned, at least according to his finance report.
Wood: I think Curtis making it through convention this time around really seals the deal.
If the delegates are on board, there’s really no opposition left
Gehrke: I don’t really understand why Herrod ran again. He didn’t have anything new to campaign on and incumbency is a beast.
Wood: “Why did he run again” is kind of this year’s Utah election theme.
Anderson: So to skip right to that (stale yet repeating) storyline, the Utah Republican Party delegates forced Romney and Curtis into a primary nonetheless. There are also two legislative races where the county delegates forced incumbents into a primary. If they go oh-fer this year, will anything change or are we back here for every election forever?
Gehrke: As for Kennedy, his campaign has been choppy, at best. I think it’s good that someone went up against Mitt. Nobody likes coronations. But it was a 382 million-to-one shot.
Wood: I may be in the minority on this one, based on previous chats, but every time the delegates get overturned, their stature shrinks. At some point that is going to become critical and candidates won’t bother wooing them anymore.
Anderson: I dont know, Gehrke, I think I saw your name on his endorsement list.
Wood: He didn’t throw away his shot.
(Disclaimer: I’ve never seen or listened to Hamilton so I have no idea if that reference works in this instance)
Gehrke: I think Curtis’ election last year was a death knell for the conventions. This year may have sealed their irrelevance.
But here’s the caveat: Watch the Ray Ward vs. Phill Wright race up in Davis County.
Is it possible that’s sort of a last gasp for the delegate bloc?
Wood: Ah yes. I want to amend my previous take: Their stature in *big federal races* is diminishing. They still wield considerable power in local elections.
@gehrke only time will tell right? Which horse are you betting on in that race?
Gehrke: That has always been a pretty moderate district. I don’t think that Wright’s brand plays that well up there.
At the same time, Ray is a very effective legislator, but not exactly a dynamo when it comes to the charisma-ometer.
Wood: If you’re Wright you’re betting on low-voter turnout in a primary right? So your team can stack the polls?
Anderson: And, given this is Utah, aren’t we almost guaranteed a low turnout?
Gehrke: I think that’s right. That’s got to be his hope. And with vote-by-mail, a good campaign really can make a difference.
Anderson: Speaking of the caucus/convention. I think all the candidates in one of Salt Lake City’s two big legislative races bypassed the convention system and just got signatures to get on the ballot.
Wood: That signature-threshold is just so darned burdensome.
Anderson: Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck is retiring, so her House seat is open and it attracted (well-funded) candidates like flies to dog doo. (Because it’s one of the few seats in Utah that’s almost guaranteed to stay in Democrats’ hands).
Wood: You really gotta hand it to Utah Democrats. Their hopes and dreams of political office are limited to a handful of seats. So yeah, they came out hard for that open spot.
Anderson: I’m not sure we know for sure how the HD24 (Chavez-Houck) race will go. But there are some interesting candidates.
Wood: Remind me who the frontrunner is for the RCH? I only know school things 😊.
Anderson: Darin Mann is cut from the Bernie Sanders cloth. He’s young, he’s a Democratic Socialist and all his campaign signs have that wing of the party’s signature rose on them.
Wood: Ahhhh yes.
Anderson: Mann is openly far left and says he’s looking to shake up the status quo.
Jen Dailey-Provost is well known at the Capitol from work on health care related issues. I don’t know how well known she is off the hill.
Gehrke: The Chavez-Houck seat has been fascinating because Rebecca endorsed Jennifer Dailey Provost early on. Igor Limansky cut his teeth on the early Obama campaigns and is very bright and young.
Wood: There was briefly a point in the campaign cycle where there was a Nunn and Dunn and a Mann and I was really hoping for a town hall.
Anderson: Yes, Limansky is very well-funded because of his connection to the Obama campaigns in Utah as well. I guess former campaigners have a big network nationwide and share money with each others’ campaigns.
Wood: There’s a generational piece there. It’s a very New-Democrat field.
Gehrke: And then you’ve got Jacquelyn Orton, who grew up in politics and is former U.S. Rep. Bill Orton’s widow, and has remained active in her own right.
Anderson: It’s almost as though it’s so crowded it will be difficult for SLC voters to differentiate.
Wood: Not to tangent too much, but that seat could really use a jungle primary.
Gehrke: This one really is a hard one to call. My gut tells me Orton wins it. But my gut also told me chicken and waffle Lay’s potato chips were a good idea. And they were not.
Wood: Who is the Republican candidate for that seat?
Gehrke: Who cares?
Anderson: Scott Rosenbush.
Gehrke: It’s like asking who the Democrat is running in Orem. It really won’t matter. This is the race to decide the seat.
Wood: Absolutely yes. Still....
Gehrke: Sorry Mr. Rosenbush. I’m sure you’re a very nice guy and thank you for lending your voice to the debate.
Anderson: Limansky has the endorsement of outgoing Sen. Jim Dabakis, whose seat is also up for grabs this year.
We’ll see if that endorsement from a popular (yet not very effective at passing bills) senator has any sway in that race or the primary to replace him.
Gehrke: Jim hasn’t been real shy about endorsing, has he? He endorsed Derek Kitchen in the race to replace him.
Anderson: He picked SLC Councilman Derek Kitchen.
It’s Kitchen v. Jennifer Plumb, MD, candidate
Gehrke: The endorsement probably doesn’t hurt, and that is a hard-fought race. Those two are going at it.
Wood: 2018: Year of the doctor.
Gehrke: I thought Derek was better known because of his council seat and would run away with it, but Plumb has (by all accounts) worked her tail off.
Anderson: I want to use this opportunity to point out that Dabakis represents a huge portion of SLC. Reporters/other people seem to think he’s just the Avenues.
Wood: The Tribune’s Gateway office is in Dabakis’ district.
Yeah, I assumed it would be a Kitchen coronation but definitely hasn’t played out that way (as of yet).
Anderson: Those are the big legislative races on the Wasatch Front tomorrow. But Price voters will also decide if they want to keep or reject an incumbent, Rep. Christine Watkins.
That’s a Republican primary as well, and Watkins is a former Dem facing Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter.
Gehrke: I think Watkins has her hands full with this one. Her opponent, Jae Potter, has been a commissioner since, I believe, 2010. And was the first Republican Carbon County elected.
Watkins switched parties after she lost the seat as a Dem a while back. The dynamics of this district are interesting though. It has slid more conservative because of its ties to coal.
Wood: Her hands were so full, in fact, that she didn’t have time to respond to Mike Kennedy’s request for an endorsement.
Anderson: Did her name show up on the list anyways?
Wood: [Wipes glasses] Well, yes, as a matter of fact it did.
Gehrke: Watkins is obviously well-known. But the bulk of the voters are still in Carbon (Duchesne has about a third). So she’ll have to really run strong there, I suspect.
Anderson: Any closing thoughts on the primary? Those are the biggest races ahead of what will be a very big November election.
Gehrke: I think it’s hard to read too much into the results tomorrow in terms of trends for November, mostly because these seats are largely safe. The only one with a chance to switch hands is the Carbon County one, and I think that’s unlikely.
Wood: I suppose we’ll be watching for voter enthusiasm? I.E. if Dem/GOP turnout is low/high. But I agree, hard to read the tea leaves off of safe seats
Gehrke: The more I think about it, that Ward/Wright race could be a bellwether. Wright has run close with Trump, so we can get a temperature on how strong Trump’s support is and how strong conservative Republican enthusiasm is. If moderate Republicans in Davis County stay home it’s possible the moderate Republicans in Salt Lake County don’t rally to support Mia Love in November.
I think if Mitt gets over 2/3 it’s a bad sign for Democrat Jenny Wilson because it shows the GOP is solidly behind him.
And if Curtis coasts, as expected, maybe it frees him up to start showing a spine on the immigration issue. (I’m an opinion guy so I get to say things like that).
Wood: An exorbitant landslide for Romney could also free him up to exercise that Trump-criticism muscle that’s been dormant the last couple months.
Anderson: Well, we’ll be back with more analysis on Trib Talk after tomorrow night’s results come in. And readers should check back for more chats as we get closer to the November election.
Wood: TRIB TALK!
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