You might want to jot this down in your planner: Early March 2000, vote in Utah's first presidential primary and declare yourself a Republican or Democrat.
Yes, it's going to happen, says Gov. Mike Leavitt, long a proponent and moving force behind a regional presidential primary in Utah and surrounding Western states.At the end of November, Leavitt will host a meeting of Western representatives to pick a date for the 2000 primary - probably a day between March 6 and March 10, 2000 - and set up some primary ground rules. Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado are legally bound to send representatives to the meeting, while Arizona and Montana are sending people, also.
But the governor told the Deseret News editorial board last week that, in his opinion, regardless of how many states ultimately join the effort, it will happen. "I see four to nine states in the first (Western) primary, perhaps more joining" in 2004 and 2008 as the move to regional primaries builds across the nation, the governor told the newspaper's editors.
And while Leavitt, a Republican, thinks the primary could be "open" in nature - that is, anyone could come to vote and not have to declare a party preference - Utah state GOP chairman Rob Bishop says in reality "people will have to pick either a Republican or Democratic ballot and we will know who they are."
Thus, for the first time since the failed party-registration effort of the late 1960s, Utah voters will have to say publicly with which political party they associate.
"Our (Republican state) executive committee has voted to push legislation (in the 1999 Legislature) that would set up a presidential primary in 2000 and we will lobby for it," said Bishop on Thursday. With Leavitt and GOP leaders behind it, success is all but assured in the Legislature.
Bishop acknowledges that while poll-watchers will be on hand to identify GOP presidential primary voters, that doesn't necessarily mean that the following June's regular candidate primary would be "closed" - only declared Republicans allowed.
For several years state GOP officials have been talking about trying to close their primaries. Bishop said no better example of the mischief of Democrats coming into GOP primaries can be found than what happened last June.
Republicans searched public polling voting books and found that a number of well-known Democrats voted June 23. In Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties there were only GOP primaries this year - Democrats having picked their nominees in their state and county conventions. So if you voted June 23 in those counties, you had only Republican candidates to chose from.
"I look forward to a purely Republican (presidential) primary in 2000. You won't see (Attorney General) Jan Graham, (State Senate Minority Leader) Scott Howell, (Salt Lake County Commissioner) Randy Horiuchi and other Democrats voting in our primary then as they did in June," says Bishop.
But citizens may not be ready - even after the presidential primary vote where they have to publicly pick up a Democratic or Republican ballot - to accept a party registration and a closed primary for other races, says Bishop.
"We'll look at that. We'll continue to study it. But we have to have public acceptance (of regular closed primaries) before we go forward." Ultimately, that will happen, too, said Bishop.
Meanwhile, Leavitt says Utah will be in some kind of presidential primary in 2000. And, hopefully, with the joining of surrounding states citizens will see a number of presidential candidates campaigning from St. George to Logan. At the very least, they'd stop in the main media market of Salt Lake City - from where TV, radio and newspapers go out statewide.
In his former life, Leavitt was for a time a political consultant to some of the largest GOP campaigns in the state. And his political acumen comes through as he talks about the strategic advantages of a Western regional presidential primary. Some examples:
- There are more delegates to the National Republican Convention - where the party's presidential nominee will be selected - up for grabs in the central-west states than there are in California.
- While there could be 190 such delegates at stake in the West, there are only 11 GOP delegates in New Hampshire - the traditional first battleground in a presidential year.
"I foresee a situation where a presidential candidate could do poorly in (the) New Hampshire (primary), poorly or not very well in (the) California (primary), but work hard in the Western primary, pick up most of the delegates and be a real player" in the GOP presidential race.
- Because of smaller media markets that still reach most of their state's citizens, a candidate could spend $3 million in Western primary states and touch voters that could deliver more delegates than California. Meanwhile, reaching those voters in California would cost two or three times as much.
The Western primary voters are a great buy, in a political sense. "I could see the strategists for several (GOP) presidential campaigns" say-ing the road to the Republican presidential nomination and the White House runs through the Mountain West, said Leavitt.