Skip to comments.Huntsman Wins UT GOP Gubernatorial Nomination: Lopsided Results Not a Surprise
Posted on 06/23/2004 7:24:51 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Huntsman wins: Lopsided results not a surprise
By Bob Bernick Jr. and Jerry D. Spangler Deseret Morning News
Jon Huntsman Jr., Rep. Chris Cannon and John Swallow have survived to campaign another day.
In Tuesday's primary elections, Huntsman thumped GOP challenger Nolan Karras by about 65-35 percent, unofficial and incomplete election results showed.
Karras conceded before 10 p.m., saying: "I congratulate Jon and offer him my support. I hope we have restored civility to politics" by the issue-oriented, high-road tenor of the GOP gubernatorial debate. "You didn't see the rhetoric (in the governor's race) you saw in some others. We brought some civility, I tried to get rid of cynicism."
Huntsman now faces Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. Now that the primary is over, said Huntsman, "I plan some time with my kids. I'm honored, I brought a message of hope and optimism and expanding the economy."
Cannon, who wasn't even in Utah Tuesday but back in Washington, D.C., handled Matt Throckmorton fairly easily in the 3rd District, about 60-40 percent unofficial and incomplete results showed. Cannon, a four-term incumbent, now faces Democrat Beau Babka.
And while the 2nd District rematch of the 2002 race between Swallow and Tim Bridgewater had some fireworks and name-calling, in the end voters picked Swallow again to challenge Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in the fall.
Voter turnout was low for the second June primary in a row state elections officials indicated it was around 15 percent.
That led some citizens to call on the Utah Republican Party to open its primary to all voters. Only registered Republicans could vote Tuesday, although unaffiliated voters those who didn't officially belong to any party could sign up at the poll to become a Republican and get a GOP ballot.
Reports were widespread that rather that register as Republicans, unaffiliated voters either walked away from polls if only Republicans were on the ballot, voted in only school district or any other nonpartisan contests, or signed up to be Republicans grudgingly in order to cast a ballot.
Some school board candidates also wondered if their nonpartisan races would become a casualty of the closed primary, as some voters may have gotten the impression they couldn't vote unless they registered as Republicans.
The Huntsman and Cannon victories were not a surprise. Both men had led their GOP challengers in public opinion surveys since coming out of the May 8 state Republican Convention.
But the Swallow-Bridgewater race closed to neck-and-neck, with a poll conducted for the Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV last week showing the race a statistical tie.
In the end, however, Swallow beat Bridgewater 53-43 percent, unofficial and incomplete results showed.
Cash on hand
Huntsman and Swallow must now regroup to mount a campaign against the Matheson family Scott Matheson in the governor's race and incumbent two-term congressman Jim Matheson in the race for the 2nd District. As of Wednesday, each Matheson had more campaign cash than did his Republican challenger.
Final financial filings of last week show Huntsman with $134,000 in cash as he prepares to face Scott Matheson, who had no convention or primary opposition and sits on a $410,218 war chest.
Swallow has $220,000 in cash. But Jim Matheson has around $800,000 available in preparation for a long, hot summer of fund raising and campaigning.
Cannon doesn't have the same worries. While he only had $47,000 at the end of the last filing period, Babka has not been active and has few financial resources as he goes after a Republican incumbent in a heavily Republican district.
Perhaps showing his disdain for Throckmorton and Babka alike, Cannon was not even in Utah Tuesday. He said several important House actions required him to be in Washington. But it was the first time anyone can remember when the incumbent with a serious challenger was away on primary day.
Cannon said he had little choice.
"We haven't had primaries like this in the past," he said. "In 1998, we had a different schedule, with the primary in the fall. Now we have a system in Congress where the Senate is not on our side. It's highly partisan, and I couldn't leave. I would much rather have been in Utah.
Low-key GOP battle
Karras, a former state House speaker and current chairman of the Board of Regents, seemed resigned this past week to Tuesday's outcome. In final debates with Huntsman, a former two-time U.S. ambassador who has worked in his well-known family's chemical and philanthropic enterprises, Karras and Huntsman were showering each other with praise and compliments the sort of things politicians say after the battle is over.
Before the final vote tallies were in Tuesday night, Karras said: "I have all these pros telling me how to get my plow cleaned. I just don't listen. I take it all (as) pessimism."
Perhaps reflective of how Karras' race wound to its conclusion, his downtown Salt Lake City campaign office lacked adequate air conditioning, so his supporters crowded into the small Royal Eatery restaurant across the street.
There, the Deseret Morning News asked Karras' running mate, Enid Greene, a former congresswoman, if having her on the ballot harmed Karras on Tuesday. "I don't know, I hope no," Greene said. "We talked about it extensively when he asked me to come on board, and he said he was confident in me no matter what. I would like to have come in without that baggage."
Said Karras: "Enid was a positive for our race; we're proud of having her with us."
Greene was referring to her personal and political scandal in 1995 that drove her to retire in 1996. Two different pre-primary newspaper polls showed voters were less likely to vote for the Karras/Greene ticket Tuesday because of Greene's previous problems.
Huntsman vs. Matheson
Karras has a long and distinguished resume. But despite a flurry of weekend television ads, the 59-year-old financial adviser couldn't seem to make much traction against Huntsman, 44.
Huntsman and his extended family put more than $541,000 into the race, while Karras and running mate Greene and her family dumped nearly $200,000 of their own money into the contest.
Huntsman emerged from Tuesday's primary as the favorite over Matheson, even though the former dean of the University of Utah law school has more campaign money now. While Huntsman has said he won't self-fund his race (last year he estimated the campaign could cost $5 million), he and his wife have loaned or given his campaign $330,000 over the past six months.
And Huntsman has said he'll use what resources he has estimated at between $50 million and $100 million to keep Utah's governorship in Republican hands.
Utah has not elected a Democrat as governor since Matheson's late father, Scott M. Matheson, who won re-election in 1980. The elder Matheson, a conservative Democrat revered for taking on the federal government, was immensely popular among Republicans and Democrats. Scott Jr. will be capitalizing on the persistent appeal of the Matheson name.
While Huntsman and Karras seemed to conclude the race on good terms, there are some hard feelings after several other tough, intraparty primaries.
Cannon was opposed by arch-conservatives in his district, especially by some in-state and out-of-state special interest groups upset with his stand on amending U.S. immigration laws. But even if those people stay on the sidelines in the final election, Babka has an uphill battle, as Cannon has historically won re-election easily in November.
However, real wounds need to be healed in the 2nd District, where Swallow and Bridgewater clearly cut each other up for the second election in a row.
Bridgewater was running radio and TV ads this past week hinting that Swallow couldn't be trusted, while Swallow sent out a mailer to likely GOP voters criticizing Bridgewater on a number of issues and actions. Both men accused the other of running a negative campaign.
Some officials are questioning whether the closed Republican primary affected nonpartisan races.
Nichole Adams, chairwoman of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party, also had problems.
"They said, well, you're a Democrat and you can't vote in the governor's race, so I don't know what you want to do," Adams said, adding she responded by asking for the nonpartisan ballot. "My concern is, what if I wasn't a persistent voter? . . . I think it's really unfortunate for the school board races (or other nonpartisan) races that aren't partisan. Such a partisan issue is having such a huge effect over a nonpartisan election."
But Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said no one had complained to her office about being turned away an indication, she hopes, of few real problems. She stresses her office tried to get the word out about nonpartisan and Democratic races in press releases and on the county Web site.
"I know it's really confusing with the closed primary," said Swensen, a Democrat. "Perhaps some local school board races get buried in that, and that's unfortunate, because we certainly want people to vote."
Chris Bleak, executive director of the state Republican Party, said he never anticipated this problem might occur but added that it is not a Republican Party problem but a problem with training of election judges.
"I would hope the county clerks instructed the judges on what to do and who could vote and who could not," he said. "But I haven't heard any complaints."
Bleak said he doubted it would create any backlash against the closed Republican primary.
Donald Dunn, chairman of the state Democratic Party, feared there would be problems with election judges unfamiliar with the closed GOP primary system fears that were realized when he began talking to people who were allowed to vote in nonpartisan races only after challenging the judges.
"It makes me wonder how many people got turned down who were not as persistent," he said. "A closed primary is a bad idea, and it only adds to the confusion."
At an upper Avenues voting district, election judges said only three voters walked away when told they had to register as Republicans to vote. More than 200 people cast ballots by 8 p.m.
"Most people thought they were already registered as Republicans, but they weren't," said one judge. "They were grumpy when we told them they had to register (GOP to get a ballot). "They don't like this closed primary," she said.
Contributing: Jennifer Toomer-Cook, Deborah Bulkeley, Josh Loftin and Andrew Kirk E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com