The real possibility of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson drawing a significant number of traditional Republican voters this year has led to a new phenomenon - Republican campaign strategists not interested in turning out some GOP voters this fall.
"We don't want any Republican candidate turning out anyone who votes for Ted Wilson," said David Buhler, campaign manager for Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter.In years past, that possibility wouldn't have been a worry. The Republican strategy for all GOP candidates was turn out every Republican voter and your man or woman would win.
Since Utah is 2-1 Republican, it was a simple and successful game plan.
But 1988 isn't a traditional election year for many Republicans, especially Bangerter.
Polls conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV by Dan Jones & Associates show that a considerable number of citizens say if the election were held today they'd vote for Wilson but would also vote for GOP presidential candidate George Bush, Sen. Orrin Hatch and, in the 1st District, Rep. Jim Hansen, or the 3rd District, Rep. Howard Nielson.
Those traditional Republicans could change their minds, of course, before the Nov. 8 election and switch from Wilson to Bangerter and hold the GOP line.
But if they stay with Wilson, the Hatch, Hansen, Nielson and local Republican legislative candidates could be working at cross purposes with Bangerter's interests; they'd be turning out voters for themselves, some of whom in turn would vote against the governor.
Buhler has thought of that possibility and doesn't like it.
"We have an agreement with Sen. Hatch's campaign people that they won't turn out any Hatch-Wilson voters," Buhler said.
Bud Scruggs, Hatch's campaign manager, agrees. "We don't want to harm any Republican candidate," he said.
Hatch and Scruggs can afford to be so generous. Hatch is way ahead in the polls, has about $1 million in the bank, and doesn't expect a close contest against Democrat Brian Moss.
But other Republican candidates, especially Hansen and a number of GOP legislators, aren't as lucky.
Hansen is in another close race this year with Democrat Gunn McKay. The latest Jones poll shows Hansen ahead 48-43 percent. Two years ago Hansen beat McKay by just 5,000 votes.
Hansen aide Howard Rigtrup said that Hansen hasn't been contacted by Bangerter yet with any request about the Hansen-Wilson vote. "It is too premature (to say how Hansen will react to such a request)," Rigtrup said. "Jim has always been a strong party man and I'm sure we'll look at this (concern) on that basis."
Some Republican strategists, who asked that their names not be used, doubt if Hansen can afford not to turn out every GOP voter this year, including Hansen-Wilson voters. "There may well be 15,000 Hansen-Wilson voters in the 1st District. Jim only won by 5,000 two years ago. He has to have the Hansen-Wilson votes," said one Republican.
Hatch has already purchased a GOP voter canvass list that will be compiled by the NICE Corp. The Ogden-based firm uses the latest techniques in telephone-computer-generated surveying. The canvass will identify the voting patterns and preferences of more than 200,000 Utah households.
Buhler said Bangerter's campaign will soon sign a contract to buy the same list, and Rigtrup said Hansen's campaign will likely also buy the 1st District portion of that list.
By all accounts, the NICE list will provide invaluable material about Republican voters, including identifying households who will likely vote for a Republican presidential, senatorial and congressional candidates but will then switch to Wilson in the governor's race.
NICE can break the voters down into Utah House and Senate district races as well. The state Republican Party may well buy that list for its legislative candidates. Thus, local GOP candidates could be in the same spot as Hansen - turning out voters who will vote for them but against the governor. For Bangerter to expect legislative GOP candidates to avoid such traditional Republicans, "is just too much," said one party official.
Buhler said Bangerter will use the NICE list to shore up his current support and to identify the GOP-Wilson or GOP-Merrill Cook voters, targeting those people specifically in an attempt to make them change their minds about Bangerter. (Cook is running an independent race for governor.)
"This is our secret weapon (the NICE canvass). Well, it's not so secret now. With this list we'll be able to send targeted messages (via direct mail or telephoning) to Republicans and say, `Vote Republican, but vote Bangerter also.' Of course, we'll send a different specific message to the Wilson voters and a different message to the Cook voters in an effort to get them back in the fold," Buhler said.
Needless to say, while trying to change those voters' minds about Bangerter, Buhler won't be trying to get those voters to the polls, since they may remain unconvinced and vote for Wilson.