Tuesday is primary election day for Utah Republicans (and sneaky Democrats who can't resist the urge to vote). There are only a handful of intraparty contests for Utah's GOP, but one of them, the treasurer's race, is statewide, so all voters who register as Republicans can vote. Here are a few of the primaries with unique dynamics that are generating a lot of interest.
House District 20: Incumbent Rep. Paul Neuenschwander faces challenger Becky Edwards. Teachers unions and others in the education advocacy network have so far stumbled in most attempts to knock off legislators who have supported voucher legislation. In Edwards, they found someone well-known in her community and able to survive the convention contest against voucher supporter Neuenschwander. While the election is about much more than just vouchers, the pro- and anti-voucher antagonists are playing out last year's battle in this South Davis/north Salt Lake City district.
And another element is in play. In the last several years, independent surgical and medical centers have jumped into politics through campaign contributions and lobbyists. Representatives of this industry are aggressively engaged to protect their livelihoods in the health-care reform process. Other stakeholders in health care (insurance companies, hospitals, etc.) are concerned about their increasing influence. This year, independent surgical centers raised the ante and fielded candidates directly tied to their industry.
Francis Gibson, vice president of the Utah Ambulatory Surgical Center Association, knocked off incumbent Aaron Tilton at the Utah County convention. Edwards is connected to a Bountiful surgical center through marriage. Consequently, insurance and hospital companies have an interest in the outcome. Many eyes are watching this spirited struggle.
House District 54: Incumbent Gordon Snow is retiring and leaving the seat open. Although this district encompasses Wasatch and Duchesne counties, for generations the representative was elected from the Uinta Basin. But over the last several years, Wasatch County's population has grown dramatically. David Labrum from Roosevelt has history on his side, but Kraig Powell may have enough fellow Wasatch County neighbors to finally tip the scales. Analysts believe this race will signal demographic changes in eastern Utah.
New Jordan East School District seat No. 3: Numerous candidates are vying for board positions in this new school district created in the controversial Jordan School District split. Among the contenders is Teresa Curtis, wife of House Speaker Greg Curtis. Curtis is accomplished in her own right an experienced and educated registered nurse. Legislative spouses have sought school board positions in the past, most recently Sara Urquhart, wife of St. George Rep. Steve Urquhart (and GOP nominee for the state Senate to replace retiring Bill Hickman).
Despite his legendary prowess at the State Capitol, Curtis was re-elected to his House seat with a slim margin of 22 votes.
Some political analysts are watching this school board contest to determine if his wife's outcome will serve as a crystal ball for the speaker's upcoming general election battle.
State treasurer: The angry e-mails we received from a recent column discussing this contest between Richard Ellis and Mark Walker are proof of the underlying hostility and emotion in this race. Politics is a rough sport. Charges of bribery and negative campaigning have dominated the contest, and news media coverage has been widespread. Both candidates have big-name endorsements. Statewide turnout will be very low, so the candidate who can get supporters to the polls will win.
3rd Congressional District: The outcome of the race for the GOP nomination between incumbent Chris Cannon and challenger Jason Chaffetz is hard to predict. On paper, Cannon should win handily as he is the incumbent, has run more ads, has big-name endorsements like Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett and President Bush, and has raised and spent far more money than Chaffetz.
But Chaffetz claims he has dramatically out-organized Cannon at the grass-roots level. He says he has precinct captains in every voting precinct in the district, and they are poised to turn out Chaffetz supporters on Tuesday. If Chaffetz' "ground game" is as good as he says it is, he will win. Grass-roots organizing is always more important than paid media in a low-turnout primary election. Chaffetz demonstrated his organizational prowess in the convention battle, where he almost KO'd Cannon. However, organizing voting precincts is a lot harder than it seems, and few candidates do it well. And Chaffetz is attempting to do it with a small campaign staff and not much money.One of the most successful grass-roots operations was in 2002 when Rob Bishop defeated a much better funded Kevin Garn for the 1st District nomination. Garn dominated the airwaves, but Bishop won the ground game. However, Bishop had worked the party trenches for years, including 16 years in the Legislature and a stint as speaker of the House. Chaffetz is much less known. With 12 years to build a political machine, Cannon should glide to victory. But Chaffetz may pull off a surprise.
Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].