SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch was forced into a primary race at last weekend's state GOP convention because delegates wanted to leave his fate up to voters, members of the Deseret News/KSL-TV delegate panel said.
"The Hatch primary seems to have been a willful act by some who didn't feel comfortable making the final decision and wanted to defer the decision to the voters at large," Cedar Hills Republican delegate Daryl Acumen said.
The Deseret News and KSL selected and assembled the team of eight delegates to weigh-in on each race and the issues of greatest concern both prior to the state convention and following its conclusion.
Acumen, one of three selected for the panel who has been a delegate before, said some delegates at the Saturday GOP convention apparently changed their minds about voting for Hatch at the last minute.
"Several I talked to actually switched their votes away from Hatch at the end simply to make a primary more probable because they didn't think they should have the final say," Acumen, a digital analyst, said.
Hatch could have won over the less than 20 more delegates he needed to avoid a primary with former state lawmaker Dan Liljenquist if he'd acknowledged their concerns, said another panelist, Kaysville City Councilman Gil Miller.
Miller said he and other delegates believe Hatch has let them down in recent years. "So if you were on the fence, Dan caught you as you fell off," Miller said of Liljenquist. "If Hatch had just said, 'I know I've let some of you down in the past,'" he could have been nominated.
Instead, Hatch fell less than 1 percentage point short of the 60 percent candidates needed to advance directly to the general election. Miller said some delegates "simply wanted the primary voters to decide Hatch's future" in the June 26 run-off election.
Panelist Judy Moore, a stay-at-home mom from Taylorsville, said, "People are frustrated that (Hatch) has been in office for so long." She said she's "glad it's going to a primary because I think most Republicans want a say in this race."
Democrat Marla Howard said Hatch faces his first primary election in 36 years because Utahns "are disappointed in the direction of this country" and see Hatch as a significant contributor to the nation's debt crisis, war and other issues.
"Many are tired of the status quo and did what they could," she said. "They got involved and voiced their opinion."
Howard said Democratic delegates chose former state lawmaker Scott Howell as the party's U.S. Senate nominee over XMission founder Pete Ashdown because they "saw a strong contender and went that direction."
4th Congressional District
GOP delegates chose Sarasota Springs Mayor Mia Love as their nominee in the state's newest Congressional district, after Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff referred to Love as a "novelty" while touting former state lawmaker Carl Wimmer.
Shurtleff's characterization of Love turned off members of the delegate panel.
Kristen Price, a West Jordan real estate agent, said the "offensive" remark influenced the second round of voting between Love and Wimmer. "I think that comment really hurt Mr. Wimmer," she said.
But Price, who lives in the 4th District, said she isn't sure Wimmer could have forced a primary because of the way Love rallied the delegates and convinced them she is uniquely qualified to beat Rep. Jim Matheson. "She really moved the crowd," she said.
"I think Mia Love left the convention without a primary because everyone agreed that it was more important to concentrate on the race with Jim Matheson than a costly primary," Moore said. "I even changed my vote from Carl to Mia. Mark Shurtleff's poor choice of words didn't help Carl's case either."
Though he lives in the 2nd District, Miller said the 4th District race was fun to watch, "especially after Mia Love delivered what was likely the best speech of the convention. Shurtleff's comment regarding her being a 'novelty' only made matters worse for her opponent," he said.
Acumen said last minute negative campaigning, including Shurtleff's "unfortunate slip of the tongue," backfired, and "clearly led to her being chosen as the Republican Party's nominee."
2nd Congressional District
Miller said while district delegates expected a primary, it didn't surprise him that author and pilot Chris Stewart ended up as the GOP nominee after the "negative propaganda" circulated about him by opponents backfired.
The controversy amounted to theatrics and once they played out, Miller said, Stewart emerged the winner. The candidates who withdrew amid the name-calling "all sounded like whiners. Nobody likes a whiner," Miller said.
Acumen called the events surrounding the 2nd District race "a sad scene" that could hurt Republicans come November.
"The biggest shock to me was the collapse of decorum," he said. "I never thought such a thing could be possible. It was a complete meltdown of the party in that district and frankly, I'd be willing to bet (Democratic Rep.) Jim Matheson is kicking himself right now for choosing to run in the Fourth instead of the Second right now. "
He compared Stewart to "the poor kid you used to watch getting picked on in the yard at school" and said the attacks "only turned off the delegates and made them more confident their inclinations to side with the apparent victim of the attacks."
Price said she was surprised by the 2nd District ruckus. "While the delegates did not know what was going on, I'm sure it influenced some of the delegates and they may have voted for the accused because the situation seemed so bizarre and prejudicial."
Price said Gov. Gary Herbert won't have a primary in part because one of his five opponents, tea party organizer David Kirkham, endorsed the governor after being eliminated in the first round of voting.
"I think when Mr. Kirkham switched sides, a lot of delegates felt like the governor would win anyway so why fight it," Price said.
She also said Herbert won support because he has modified some of his stands on issues key to delegates, by strengthening his "lackluster performance" in the battle for control of the state's public lands and agreeing to take another look at the Common Core federal education initiative.
"Hopefully, the pressure will help him see the light," Price said.
Moore, too, said she hopes the governor will use "his narrow escape at the convention" to address the concerns about Common Core as well as what she called increased spending "that has been masked by an influx of federal stimulus money."
Acumen said Herbert's chief challenger, former state lawmaker Morgan Philpot, came on too strong for delegates, attacking "a popular governor who by almost any measure imaginable is doing a terrific job with 30-foot banners reading, 'Failed Leadership.'"
Such negativity, Acumen said, did not resonate with most delegates. He said "the rookie mistake of focusing too much on the faults of the opposition rather than the virtues of the self clearly backfired and cost Philpot a shot at the primary."
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