ELECTIONS

2024 Utah GOP convention winners struggle in primary election

Jun 26, 2024, 6:47 PM | Updated: 8:23 pm

Voters fill out their ballots during primary election voting held at the Lehi Public Safety Buildin...

Voters fill out their ballots during primary election voting held at the Lehi Public Safety Building in Lehi on Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (Isaac Hale, Deseret News)

(Isaac Hale, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY —  Many winners at this year’s Utah GOP convention have not seen their success roll over into the primary election.

According to state data as of early Wednesday, the convention winners for Utah governor, Phil Lyman; state auditor, Ricky Hatch; attorney general, Frank Mylar; and almost every major congressional seat, Trent Staggs, Paul Miller and Colby Jenkins, are not currently projected to win their primary race.

The only exception is current Utah state Senator Mike Kennedy, who’s projected to win the House seat in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. That seat was left vacant by Congressman John Curtis, who is now running for Sen. Mitt Romney’s open Senate seat.

It is important to note Representatives Blake Moore, Celeste Maloy, Burgess Owens and others have won previous conventions.

Why is this happening?

“This has been the result for the past several election cycles,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinkley Institute of Politics.

“And in fact, it’s rooted in the very reason, the ‘Count My Vote‘  initiative was started in 2014. Because the delegates tend to put forward candidates that are more conservative than those that tend to win in the Republican primaries.

“This election primary was a perfect example of that,” Perry said. “Only one candidate won a convention (and then a) major campaign position — one — and that is Sen. Mike Kennedy.  And it is just proving that point, that’s been historically the case … maybe even on more of a grander scale than we’ve ever seen in the past.”

Utah GOP Chair Robert Axson told KSL NewsRadio there are convention winners for other state and local positions that are seeing success.

“Well, I wouldn’t articulate it as ‘convention winners struggling’ because keep in mind, the whole process of a primary is to allow for a broad participation of Republican voters,” said Axson.

“I know the Celeste Maloy race is too close to call but she is currently in the lead. She’s a convention winner. You’ve got Mike Kennedy, his race was declared. He’s a convention winner.”

“Burgess Owens, he won by acclamation through the convention,” Axson said. “So, the convention still plays a very meaningful role and process in providing Utahns the opportunity to consider various candidates for the Republican party.”

Is the GOP convention effective?

Axson said the GOP convention system in Utah works well.

“I think you always need to be open to changes in any process in any rules and any system including in political dialogue and discourse. But folks are engaging in conclusions that the caucus convention system is somehow outdated or out of touch, and are unwilling to help improve it,” he said.

“I think that is not to our benefit as Utahns because that process works very well in many cases. Let’s look to figure out ways to improve it.”

However, Axson noted the need for more political engagement. 

Look at the numbers in the turnout yesterday (primary election day). We have nearly two million registered voters in the state of Utah and we are going to fall extremely short of that … I think it behooves all of us to figure out how to get more involvement in engagement and to provide meaningful, respectful and deep conversations on how best to represent the people of Utah”

An alternate path is still needed

Perry had a different view on the process. 

“There is an argument to made there that this [the caucus] increases participation. But for those in the legislature and otherwise that are wondering whether or not you still need to have an alternative path to the ballot, this primary proves Utahns would say, ‘yes,'” Perry said.

“The winner of this primary apart from these candidates was the signature gathering process. The more moderate candidates did outperform the more conservative candidates in these headliner races.”

Other solutions?

While Utah GOP Chair Robert Axson supports the convention nominating process, he’s open to new ideas. There’s one particular change that Axson said he supports “100% — new people running to become a delegate.

“I would encourage every interested Utahn to participate in the caucus of their choice, whether it’s with the Democrat party or the Republican party. Run to be a delegate, get involved in that system.”

And Perry said changing how the caucus convention system is accessed would be an improvement.

“Make it more convenient for people to come to those caucuses,” he told KSL NewsRadio. “Organize them in such a way that it’s an experience where, when you leave, you want to be more engaged.”

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2024 Utah GOP convention winners struggle in primary election