Candidates go through delegates' stomachs to win hearts, minds

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

"It's just a perception thing for me," said Jay Seegmiller, one of three Democrats running for the 2nd District seat in Congress. "I just err on the side of not being perceived as trying to buy people. I think there's too much of that with lobbyists."

Cherilyn Eagar, one of 11 Republicans in the 2nd District race, said she's trying to make a statement by not paying for delegate meals in restaurants. Instead, her campaign invites delegates to "buy your own" meals in low-cost restaurants.

"Much of what's going wrong in Washington right now is the idea that people can get something for nothing," she said. "I like it when people know I'm not trying to buy their favor. It feels better to me."

Eagar said her decision also helps the campaign's bottom line. "It's been a tough fundraising year for everyone in Utah," she said. "It's been very important that we spend our money wisely."

Another GOP contender in the crowded 2nd District field, former Utah House Speaker Dave Clark, also avoids restaurants for meetings with delegates in a district that stretches from southern Utah to Davis County.

On a recent evening, some 20 delegates gathered to hear from Clark at the Fruit Heights home of Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, many sitting on folding chairs and nibbling on cold cuts and cookies set out by the campaign.

"I don't think it's a huge deal to have things in restaurants. But from a campaign standpoint, it's not worth the money," said Clark's campaign manager, Greg Hartley. "Our policy is homes first, public buildings second and restaurants as a last resort."

Hartley, who's managed GOP races since 2000, said other than the expense, there's nothing wrong with buying meals at restaurants, a practice that's gone on for years. "The name of the game is getting delegates to show up," he said. "I don't think it's trying to buy votes."

Candidate Chris Stewart, an author, tried a different approach to reach Republican delegates in the 2nd District. His campaign hand-delivered autographed copies of his book, "Seven Miracles That Saved America," to nearly 1,000 delegates within days of the GOP caucuses.

"It was quite an operation," said Stewart's campaign spokeswoman Nikki VanOverbeck. "A lot of people knew about the books and hadn't put together the same Chris Stewart that was the author was the Chris Stewart running for Congress."

VanOverbeck said the campaign also attempted to be creative about feeding delegates, hosting "Picnic and Politics" events at parks and other public places where hot dogs, apple pie and root beer were served.

"We went with an Americana theme," she said. "Nothing extraordinarily fancy."

Judy Moore, a first-time GOP delegate from Taylorsville, said she received a sports car poster and tickets to Miller Motorsports Park in the mail from David Kirkham, one of the candidates challenging Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

"I was a little bewildered by it," Moore said of the gift from the custom-car manufacturer, "but I think it was his way of setting himself apart and showing who he is."

An invitation to join Kirkham for a "Day at the Track" offered delegates the opportunity to ride around the track with a certified race car driver in one of the Cobra replica's made by his Provo company.

Kirkham's campaign said the event not only showcased his "unique Utah-based international company" but also the "horsepower" he'd bring to running the state as governor.

Doing their homework

Wading through all the invitations, phone calls, emails, mailers and occasional gifts from candidates amounts to a part-time job for many delegates.

"What you don't want is the drive-by delegate," said Paul Baltes, a GOP precinct chairman in Springville. "You want someone involved."

Sen. Orrin Hatch's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said the delegates deserve the attention from candidates because they work hard. "They treat it very seriously," he said. "We're going to provide as much information as they want."

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