How many GOP voters will Evan McMullin need to beat Mike Lee this fall? Robert Gehrke dips into his mentions.

Did Democrat crossover impact state legislative races? Did Ally Isom run a spoiler campaign? Gehrke answers your burning questions.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

In the aftermath of the primary elections, I decided to do a sort of “reader mailbag” feature and solicited questions via Twitter in an attempt to try to provide a little insight or context for some of the post-primary fallout.

Here are four of the questions I received:

Did the sheer number of normally-Democratic voters who registered as Republicans push down turnout in the three competitive state Senate races? (Question from @jlms_qkw)

It certainly looks like Democrats crossing over to vote in the Republican races may have driven down turnout in the Democratic primary, in at least one of the three state Senate races.

First, there were the three Democratic Senate races on the ballot: Sen. Derek Kitchen vs. Jen Plumb in Senate District 9; Sen. Gene Davis vs. Nate Blouin in Senate District 13; and Rep. Stephanie Pitcher vs. Deondra Brown in Senate District 14.

Blouin and Pitcher won comfortably. And Plumb overtook Kitchen as additional votes were posted Thursday.

Figuring out the impact of Democrats changing their registration and voting in the GOP primary is a little tricky though, because in 2018 Sens. Davis or Jani Iwamoto (who held the seat Pitcher and Brown were competing for) didn’t have a primary, so there’s nothing to compare it to.

That leaves us Kitchen and Plumb, who ran against each other in 2018. Kitchen won that race by 550 votes.

But the thing that jumps out at you is that there were 10,496 votes cast that year. This time around there have only been 8,337 votes counted. And while Salt Lake County has some ballots to count, it’s not a lot. Turnout as a percentage of registered voters (any registered voter can vote in the Democratic primaries) fell from 27% in 2018 to 21% (so far) in 2022.

Now let’s look at the U.S. Senate races. In 2018, when Mitt Romney was running, there were 4,916 votes cast in the Kitchen-Plumb state senate district. This year, 8,149 voters in that district cast ballots in the race between Mike Lee, Becky Edwards and Ally Isom.

There’s no way to tell what impact that had on the Kitchen-Plumb race, but it certainly looks like the crossover voting drove down turnout. And in a race where Plumb now leads by 51 votes, every ballot matters.

What’s your guess on the number of Edwards and Isom voters needed by [Evan] McMullin to pull off the upset? (Question by @TheBMax)

Short answer: Pretty much all of them.

The longer answer is that it’s really hard to know because there are so many unknowable factors — including which party turns out in the general election and whether Democrats actually coalesce behind Evan McMullin.

That said, if we look back at a recent poll done by OH Predictive Insights, they model the electorate to be 50% Republican, 15% Democrat and 35% unaffiliated. It’s a reasonable estimate and the one I’m going to use.

If that’s the case, the 62% of Republicans Lee got in the primary would translate into 31% of the general election voters. That’s his base. The most recent Deseret News poll gave Lee 11% of Democrats (feels high, but whatever), translating into 1.7%. And it said McMullin leads Lee among independents, but it can’t be by much to get their final margin in the poll, so let’s say Lee gets a little less than half the unaffiliateds.

That puts Lee at 49.7%, which means McMullin can’t afford to lose much from any of those three groups.

As I said, this is back-of-the-napkin math and a snapshot using limited data. We also know politics are dynamic and campaigns can change voters’ minds. It won’t be easy, but there does seem to be a path for McMullin to make this race close and a chance to make history.

3. Do you feel Isom ran a spoiler campaign against Edwards? (Question from @LukasWi21347248)

No. I’ve never seen any indication that was the intent and I certainly don’t think Isom ran as a stalking horse to split the vote and help Lee.

That said, I have seen a lot of people saying it wouldn’t matter if one of them had dropped out because combined they still only had 38% to Lee’s 62%. But it mattered more than some think and it mattered long before election day.

With two candidates in the race, neither campaign was able to get enough traction to convince donors there was a realistic chance of victory and donors are reluctant to spend money on a losing cause, especially against an incumbent senior senator.

Without money, it was impossible to spread their message the way they would have liked. So, no. I don’t think Isom got into the race to be a spoiler, nor did Edwards spoil Isom’s bid.

There was, however, a point after the convention and before ballots were printed that either candidate could have dropped out. Each called on the other to do so. It probably would have made more sense for Isom, who was polling in the single digits, to quit.

Neither did. And from that point on, with neither having a shot to win as long as the other was in the race, the two campaigns were, in a way, spoilers for each other.

I thought turnout would be higher. (Comment from @RichardJaussi). Is [turnout] higher or lower than “normal” years? (Question from @WhoKnewLottie)

As of Thursday afternoon, turnout statewide was about 27%. But it’s tricky to get a good comparison to prior years because primary turnout is volatile, and depends entirely on what races are on the ballot — some years there are a lot of big statewide races, some years there aren’t.

Two years ago, we had that big four-way Republican primary for governor that drove turnout through the roof, with nearly 38% of all registered voters participating in the primaries. More impressive was the fact that 67% of registered Republicans voted (remember, GOP closed primary voters have to be registered members of the party).

This year, 46% of registered Republicans voted in the Republican primary, according to the most recent data, with people drawn largely by the Lee-Edwards-Isom Senate contest.

That 2020 primary was a bit of an outlier — in fact, the highest turnout in two decades. In 2018, a third of voters took part; in 2016, it was 26%; in 2014 it was just 13%; and in 2012 the figure was 20%.

In that context, the 27%-plus this year looks pretty good. But with almost none of our elections in November being meaningfully contested, you would like to see more people participate in the election that, in most cases, actually matters.