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Romney's spot on GOP ticket could increase Utah voter turnout

Published: Sunday, Jan. 15 2012 11:49 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns in Hilton Head, S.C., Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — One-party Republican rule in Utah could become even more dominant in 2012, thanks to one Mitt Romney.

The former Massachusetts governor and former Utah Olympic chief appears increasingly likely to win the top spot on the GOP ticket. That could make Republican numbers even more lopsided in a state where the GOP already controls nearly all the top posts.

The reason is pretty basic: turnout.

Both Republicans and Democrats believe Romney will bring a solid increase in GOP voters to the polls. And in close races in Utah, just a few percent more voters could make all the difference.

"I tend to think that Democrats are in a lot of trouble if Mitt is at the top of the ticket," said Romney adviser Kirk Jowers, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. Veteran political observers in Utah believe Romney's impact could drive voter turnout up 3 percent or more.

When asked about it Saturday, Utah Republican Party executive director Ivan DuBois broke into a grin. "This is a natural smile," he said. "It'd be a great thing for Gov. Romney to be at the top of the ticket."

For Democrats, the facial expression is more of a grimace. "We think between eight and 12 more people will come out because Mitt is at the top of the ballot, at least that's what we're hoping for," joked Jim Dabakis, Utah Democratic Party chairman. When asked if he meant eight to 12 percent, Dabakis said "No, I'm an optimist."

Romney heading up the GOP ballot clearly could impact close races.

Democrat Jim Matheson holds one of Utah's five seats in Congress, but won in 2010 by a little less than 5 percent, and this time will run in a new district.

From the governor on down, Republicans dominate state government. In the Legislature, they have a super majority, outnumbering Democrats by a 3-to-1 margin in the Senate and a similar ratio in the Utah House.

Democrats said they'll have good candidates, think they have an edge on issues like education and will encourage voters to look closely at the records of those running.

"We'll have a challenge next year," said former Democratic state Sen. Karen Hale. "All of us admit that we'll have a challenge, but it doesn't change our tactics at all."

Jowers said Romney's down-ticket impact may especially be felt in the race to replace County Mayor Peter Corroon, a two-term Democrat. State Sens. Ross Romero and Ben McAdams, both Democrats, hope to replace him, and in a normal year, would have a solid shot against a Republican opponent.

But in 2012, that task may prove tougher.

Jowers said Romney could also turn around the state's typically weak voter turnout.

"If Mitt's on the ticket, Utah will go from last in voting to probably top two or three," Jowers said.

DuBois said Romney is already helping the party recruit new Utah volunteers and to drive fundraising.

According to the federal election commission's website, Utah ranks sixth among Romney's top fundraising states, trailing only much bigger states of California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. As of the most recent report, Utahns had raised $658,000 for Romney's 2012 run.

Email: jdaley@desnews.com

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