This story pairs with “Utah GOP leaders push unity moving forward from midterm elections”
November’s midterm elections brought about some big changes in Republican Party leadership positions in Utah. No change was bigger than Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement and Mitt Romney’s election as Hatch’s replacement.
BYU political science professor Richard Davis said he thinks Romney’s election will bring some enthusiasm to the GOP.
“The Republican Party gained a star senator — Mitt Romney,” Davis said. “Hatch brought seniority, but Romney brings attention.”
While Romney won in a landslide election, his campaign highlighted some issues within the GOP, specifically in the candidate nomination process.
Candidate nomination process
Before 2014, the only way to get on the ballot in Utah was through the caucus system. Delegates for each precinct were assigned and then voted at conventions to support candidates and put them on the official ballot.
State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Davis, said the primary caucus system skews public opinion and is not fully representative of what most people in the Republican Party think.
Weiler said the discrepancy exists because it takes time to understand and participate fully in the caucus system in Utah, and many people are too busy to become fully involved.
As a result, the most enthusiastic and extreme Republicans are the ones who become fully represented, voting in a disproportionate amount of delegates.
“They know they’re a minority,” Weiler said of right-wing extremists. “But their voices get amplified in the caucus convention system because they know how to get their people elected as delegates. If they’re 15 percent of the population, they can act like they’re more like 45 percent in the convention.”
Because of this imbalance, there can be a rift between what the majority of people support and what happens at the Republican conventions.
In 2014 Senate Bill 54 passed in an attempt to make sure the most supported candidate gets on the ballot. A document from the Lt. Gov.’s office explained the new bill as follows:
“SB54 does not eliminate the political party convention system. It does, however, introduce an alternative method for candidates to get on the primary election ballot. Depending on a party’s classification, a candidate may get on the primary ballot by gathering petition signatures, obtaining a nomination through the party’s convention, or both.”
Weiler, who voted in favor of the bill, said the change gave more power to the voice of the people.
What does this have to do with Romney?
Romney participated in both the political party convention system and signature gathering, which caused a stir among delegates at the convention.
“The signature path allows candidates to bypass the delegates and go directly to the people. The far right’s voice has always been amplified by the delegates,” Weiler said. “To extremists, if you collect even one signature you’re dead to them because you betrayed them.”
Because Romney opted to collect signatures to ensure his spot on the ballot, he lost support from the delegates. Even though Romney was a clear favorite to win the Senate seat, he actually lost narrowly to Matt Kennedy at the Republican state convention.
Because neither Kennedy or Romney won 60 percent of the vote, it forced a primary election that Romney won handily.
“Mitt Romney is a great example of the discrepancy you see in the delegates. He only got about 49 percent of the votes at the convention, and then he goes on the ballot and get’s 72 percent of the vote,” Weiler said. “That really shows you how out of touch with the mainstream party the delegates are.”
This video from Romney’s twitter shows him singing about his intense campaign trail. Romney collected over 28,000 signatures to get on the ballot.
Didn’t quite catch all those cities that Romney visited? Don’t worry, here’s a map with a blue pin on every town or city that Romney mentioned in the song.
Weiler said he thinks implementing the signature path was a step in the right direction for unifying the Republican Party but more can always be done.
“When you go in your neighborhood precinct caucus to get elected, you’re supposed to be a voice for the people in your neighborhood,” Weiler said. “But these delegates are often just a voice for themselves because they’re not reflective of the voices in their neighborhood.”
Davis said though the extreme political beliefs are often the loudest, facts suggest they’re in the minority. “Voting patterns suggest more moderation by Utah voters rather than an embrace of conservatism or liberalism,” he said.
In Romney’s case, skewed delegates didn’t hold back the popular candidate, but the discrepancy between delegate vote and popular vote highlighted the issues within the system.