SALT LAKE CITY — For a state that already dominantly puts Republicans in high government spots, the increasing likelihood of Mitt Romney securing the spot at the top of the GOP ticket could excite even more Republicans to cast their ballot this election year.
Romney's ties to Utah as the former Olympic chief elicits enough reaction that both Republicans and Democrats believe his candidacy at the top of the ticket will bring a solid increase of GOP voters to the polls. In close races for Utah seats, just a slight increase of right-wing voters could make all the difference.
"We think between 8 and 12 (percent) more people will come out because Mitt is at the top of the ballot, at least that's what we're hoping for," said Utah Democratic Party Chair, Jim Dabakis. "Mitt is going to win Utah anyway, so there's no reason for Utahns to come out and support Mitt Romney, he's going to win anyway."
Romney on the ballot could drive voter turnout and help other Utah GOP candidates. From the Governor on down, Republicans dominate state government. In the Legislature, they have a super-majority. They currently out-number Democrats by a 3 to 1 margin in the Senate, with a similar gap in the Utah House.
Romney Advisor Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, says the impact of increased turnout could be seen in the race to replace County Mayor Peter Corroon, a Democrat.
"I tend to think that Democrats are in a lot of trouble if Mitt is at the top of the ticket," Jowers said.
State Senators Ross Romero and Ben McAdams, both Democrats, hope to replace Carroon, and in a normal year, they would have a solid shot. But 2012 will likely not be a normal year in Utah politics and the state's typically weak voter turnout could turn around.
"If Mitt's on the ticket, Utah will go from last in voting to probably top two or three," Jowers said.
Higher turnout could also bring out more Independents who may split their ticket in some of the less prominent races and challenge the GOP.
Democrat Jim Matheson won in 2010 by a little less than 5 percent. He currently holds Utah's seat for the 2nd District in Congress, and this time will run in the newly created 4th District. Democrats say 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.