Candidates go through delegates' stomachs to win hearts, minds

Published: Sunday, April 8 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Bill Loveless, left, a delegate, his wife, Rhonda, and Jon VanderStek, a delegate, listen to Carl Wimmer, a candidate for the 4th Congressional District, at IHOP in West Jordan, Wednesday, April 4, 2012.

Ravell Call, Ravell Call, Deseret News

Early morning light streams through the windows at Einstein Bros Bagels where Jordan Fuller and two dozen other Republican delegates huddle around a table eating bagels smeared with cream cheese courtesy of congressional candidate Mia Love.

Love makes her pitch for the state's new 4th District seat and answers questions for more than an hour, and then sticks around for those who want to talk one-on-one. Fuller, a first-time state delegate, patiently waits his turn.

"I don't know you very well," the 35-year-old West Valley City man tells the candidate.

He then spent a long time talking with Love, the African-American mayor of Saratoga Springs, including sharing his concerns about a social worker wanting to place one of his four adopted black sons on government assistance as soon as the child was released from the hospital. Fuller's four young boys were born of a drug-addicted mother.

By the time the state party conventions roll around April 21, delegates like Fuller should know the candidates inside and out. In addition to the face time, incumbents and challengers slam them with phone calls, emails, Facebook requests, texts and tweets.

Many candidates, especially in the 4th District, have taken to courting delegates over breakfast, lunch or dinner — usually paid for by the candidates. IHOP one morning, Mimi's Cafe the next. Golden Corral one evening, Chili's the next. And there's also the popular "Dessert with (fill in the candidate)" at Marie Callender's.

Breakfast at Einstein Bros was Fuller's third eat-and-greet as he vets 4th District hopefuls. He ate with Carl Wimmer at Denny's (buy your own breakfast) and had an Olive Garden dinner on Stephen Sandstrom.

As state GOP delegate Zach Jacob tweeted:

"Dinner with @Sandstromutah last night, Breakfast with @danforutah tomorrow... Delegatehood has its privileges."

Only Republican and Democratic party delegates elected in last month's neighborhood caucuses have a say in who gets on the ballot in contested intraparty races. And though delegates might have backed particular candidates in those meetings, they're not bound to vote for them at the party conventions.

So the push is on to wine and dine the delegates, though always sans the wine. Without their support at convention, it's game over — no advancing to a primary or a general election.

Food doesn't impress everyone, though.

West Jordan real estate agent Kristen Price is serving as a state Republican delegate for the second time. Eight years ago, she kept to herself while "joyously" indulging in the spreads candidates laid out at various events. Now she does just the opposite on both accounts.

Carrying a yellow steno pad, the 63-year-old grandmother comes armed with thoughtful questions she doesn't hesitate to ask. She eschews the food because she doesn't want candidates to spend money on her nor does she want to be influenced.

Price's flexible work schedule allows her to spend hours a day delving into candidates' platforms and backgrounds.

"I want my grandchildren to grow up in the country I grew up in," she says, her lips quavering and her eyes welling with tears. "That's my motivation. I see that being taken away."

Some buy, some won't

Some candidates don't foot the bill for delegates, citing concerns it could appear they're trying to buy votes. Others avoid restaurants more as a cost-saving measure, preferring to meet in public places or private homes.

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