SALT LAKE CITY – There’s down and dirty politics afoot in the GOP gubernatorial race, but Cache County voters seem to be staying above the fray.
The campaign of Jon Huntsman Jr. is urging Utah Democrats and independent voters to register as Republicans in the hope that crossover voting will carry the tide for the mostly-liberal former governor in the upcoming GOP primary balloting.
Huntsman’s strategy is being aided and abetted by former Utah Democratic Party chairman Jim Dabakis, who is encouraging other Democrats to join him in throwing a monkey wrench into what he calls a “rigged election.”
But voters in Cache County don’t seem to be taking the bait, according to County Clerk Jill Zollinger.
Zollinger said that her staff isn’t seeing any evidence of significant numbers of Cache County voters changing their party affiliations as they prepare to mail out ballots for the upcoming Democratic and Republican primaries on June 30.
Huntsman is one of four candidates on the ballot in the GOP primary. His rivals are Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Utah House speaker Greg Hughes and former Republican Party chair Thomas Wright.
Under Republican Party rules, their primary is a closed affair, with only registered GOP voters participating in that balloting. Dakakis says that limitation makes the primary a rigged election, since its outcome has determined who serves as governor since the 1980s.
“I believe everybody in the state ought to get into this fixed, rigged election,” Dabakis said, “to make sure that the best person gets elected governor of Utah, not just be passive and sit there and see who this small, small slice of state voters decide should be the leader.”
While it seems doubtful that crossover voting could determine the outcome of the GOP primary, Utah’s current voter registration statistics suggest that’s not a total impossibility.
As of May 26, Utah has nearly 1.5 million registered voters and slightly less than half of them are Republicans. Only about 220,000 voters are registered Democrats, but more than 475,000 voters are unaffiliated with either major party.
In the four-way race in the GOP primary, a candidate winning as little as 30 percent of the vote could secure the party’s nomination – and likely be guaranteed to win the governor’s office in the November balloting. Since Cox and Huntsman have been neck-and-neck in polling since January, a relatively small number of crossover voters could tip the balance in the primary balloting.
The most likely beneficiary of crossover voting by Democrats or unaffiliated voters would be Huntsman, who is widely regarded as the most liberal of the Republican gubernatorial candidates. The Huntsman campaign has been running ads on social media urging voters to ensure that they are registered as Republicans in order to vote in the upcoming primary.
Local voters’ lack of response to the crossover scheme may be an indication of low enthusiasm for Huntsman’s candidacy. While Huntsman’s campaign claims their candidate is a “proven, experienced leader” for troubled times, the former governor resigned from office early in 2009 just when Utah and the rest of the country were plunging into recession due to the collapse of the housing market.
Another factor may be that Cache County voters are showing more loyalty to local Democratic candidates than Dabakis.
Karina Brown of Nibley is the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson and Logan resident Darren Parry is in the running for the Democratic nomination to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop in Congress.