Bloomberg campaign sees an open door after Romney’s Trump vote

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.

Democrat Michael Bloomberg’s campaign says Republican Sen. Mitt Romney may have unintentionally opened the door wider for it among non-Democratic centrists who can vote in Utah’s presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 3.

One of every 3 voters in Utah is unaffiliated, but they (and members of any party) may vote in Utah’s open Democratic primary. Most of Utah’s unaffiliated voters traditionally support Republicans, but Trump’s tough attacks on Romney for voting to remove him for abuse of power might stir centrist independents enough to vote in the Democratic primary, Bloomberg’s campaign figures.

So, Bloomberg is trying to convince them (plus Democrats) that the moderate former New York City mayor is the Democrat most likely to beat Trump in the general election. He is skipping contests in early states to focus on the 14 states participating in Super Tuesday.

“I think the conversation around impeachment and the conversation around Senator Romney is giving us some inroads into the households out there that I’ll say that maybe we wouldn’t have had before,” Lauren Littlefield, Bloomberg’s state director, said in a news media phone call Monday.

“Our field team is busy making voter contact, knocking on doors, making phone calls, attending community events, utilizing social media and texting to reach out to our huge unaffiliated voter data universe” as well as the state’s Democrats, she said.

(Senate Television via AP, file) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, explains his vote to convict President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 5, 2020

Trump’s campaign discounted Bloomberg’s hopes that the president’s treatment of Romney may help Democrats in heavily Republican Utah. “Good luck with that,” said Trump campaign spokesperson Samantha Zager.

While Trump won the 2016 election in Utah with less than 50% of the vote, recent polls have showed him picking up support, with Republicans backing him by wide margins. Romney has seen a recent decline in his Utah support.

Fellow Republicans in the state have been critical of Romney’s vote against Trump and some have even launched efforts to censure him in the state Legislature and GOP Party.

In Utah currently, 35.3% of voters are unaffiliated, 13.6% are Democrats and 46.2% are Republican.

Comments from the Bloomberg campaign comes as Utah’s counties are scheduled to mail out ballots on Tuesday for the upcoming primary — so they should start arriving in mailboxes beginning Wednesday. Candidates usually try to deliver mailers about the same time.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said tens of thousands of unaffiliated voters in her county are requesting Democratic ballots.

“We mailed out letters to 210,000 unaffiliated voters” in January telling them what steps they would need to take to vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries, she said. “We’ve had a response from 34,000, and almost all of them requested Democratic ballots.”

She expects more requests to come as the election nears. Swensen said the deadline for unaffiliated or other voters to request a mailed Democratic ballot is Feb. 25.

They also may request a ballot at in-person voting centers on primary election day, or at early voting centers.

Republicans in Utah have a “closed” primary, meaning only registered party members may participate.

The deadline for registered members of a party to change their affiliation before the primary passed last week. However, Swensen said unaffiliated voters still may register as Republicans or Democrats at in-person voting centers if they choose and cast ballots.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant is not worried that non-Democrats voting in his party’s primary might select someone not supported by its registered members.

“We believe in the democratic process and in not limiting people’s ability to participate in the process,” he said.

To win delegates in Utah’s Democratic presidential primary, candidates must win at least 15% of the vote, Merchant said. Those who win more than that then split delegates in proportion to their share of the vote.

Utah’s Democratic primary will select 29 delegates. Party officials in Utah also are given another six “super delegate” slots. This year, super delegates are not allowed to vote in a first round at the convention (unless one candidate clearly secured enough delegate votes for nomination before the convention).

That happened after controversy four years ago about super delegates helping Hillary Clinton to win the nomination over Bernie Sanders.

Officials expect a possibly heavy turnout on the Democratic side, but probably not among Republicans because Trump is expected to win easily over several minor GOP challengers on the ballot.

“I’m kind of guessing at a turnout of 40% to 50% overall,” Swensen said. “We really don’t know. This is the first time we’ve participated in Super Tuesday.”

Merchant, the Democratic party chief, said, “There’s a lot of excitement as candidates are fighting for every possible delegate.” Democratic candidates on the ballot who have visited the state this cycle include Bloomberg, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Pete Buttigieg has scheduled a visit on Feb. 17, and Merchant said Biden may also visit again.

Justin Lee, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, said voters may see profiles that candidates submitted plus details on voter registration and in-person voting sites online at vote.utah.gov. He adds this is the first election where all 29 counties are voting primarily by mail.