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Some Republicans pushing for crossover vote against Matheson

Published: Wednesday, May 12 2010 1:42 a.m. MDT

Jim Matheson

T.j. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The political fallout from last weekend's state GOP and Democratic conventions is already starting — a "Republicans for Claudia" movement among some Utah conservatives asking Republicans to jump into the 2nd District Democratic primary.

Retired schoolteacher Claudia Wright got 45 percent of the Democratic convention vote to move into a June 22 primary with U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson.

The district is GOP-leaning, taking in eastern Salt Lake County and counties to the east, south and southwest, and contains plenty of Republican voters.

Meanwhile, former state representative Morgan Philpot barely won the GOP 2nd District nomination outright Saturday, and so Republicans don't have a primary in that race.

That, some conservatives believe, frees up 2nd District Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to go into the Democratic primary and vote for Wright, who likely would be easier for Philpot to beat in November. But other conservatives say such an effort would be wrong, and they don't back it.

"For purposes of a Republican victory, I'd rather face Claudia," Philpot said candidly Tuesday morning. "But I'm just happy to face either of them."

Philpot said he's not behind the crossover vote effort.

At least one "Republicans for Claudia" website went online Monday, sponsored by tea party member Chase Everton. Conservative state Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, likes that idea, also, his Facebook page said early Tuesday, although later in the day he apologized and said it was a wrongheaded idea.

"I'm not happy about this," Wright said. "Republicans have their own U.S. Senate (primary) race, and I'd prefer a straight-up contest with Mr. Matheson" and to not have Republicans coming into the 2nd District primary.

Matheson said he takes seriously "every political dynamic" — like a conservative crossover — but in the end, he believes he'll beat both Wright and Philpot. "Crossover (attempts) have not manifested themselves in Utah," Matheson said.

Arguing against an effective crossover is the June 22nd GOP U.S. Senate race. It's the paramount primary, because it's likely the winner there — either Tim Bridgewater or Mike Lee — will win in November and could spend decades in Washington, D.C.

David Kirkham, the founder of Utah's first tea party group and an organizing assistant for more than a dozen others around the state, said Tuesday that neither he nor any of the tea party supporters he has spoken to are advocating for a crossover vote.

"At no any time has there been encouragement at any level, nor will there be, for asking Republicans to vote for a Democrat in District 2," Kirkham said.

Kirkham told the Deseret News on Monday that the post-convention efforts of the tea party and 9.12 groups would likely be focused on support for Philpot in his efforts to oust incumbent Matheson, getting voters to the polls and working on state-level races.

Todd Taylor, longtime executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said that in his experience, he has rarely seen a crossover vote be effective.

Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones of Dan Jones & Associates says the only real crossover vote he has measured happened in 1990 — and, oddly enough — it was in the old 2nd District (which then was totally in Salt Lake County).

That year, conservative Dan Marriott got 53 percent of the Republican voters' ballots, according to Jones' exit polling for KSL-TV. But moderate Genevieve Atwood won the GOP primary by a few thousand votes — with, said Jones, Democrats and independents coming into the primary to pick the more moderate candidate. It didn't matter in the end. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens, a popular moderate like Matheson, easily won re-election in November.

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