Based on the campaigns run for Republican
Party leadership and State Central Committee positions at the County and State
Republican conventions, it would appear that the disunity in the Utah Republican
Party was solely responsible for the Republicans loss of the 4th
Congressional District along with several legislative seats.
However, I would argue that the division in
the Utah Republican Party was only one of several factors that led to
Republican losses and, it was definitely not the strongest factor.
The initiatives on the 2018 ballot brought
out many additional voters which helped the Democrats in Salt Lake County. Utah County’s flawed election system effectively
suppressed the Republican vote there. Either singly or combined, these were of much
greater importance that was the disunity in the Party. Finally, it has to be acknowledged that Mia
Love was not the strongest possible candidate.
medical marijuana (cannabis), Medicaid expansion and independent redistricting
commission initiatives helped push higher voter turnout. In fact, 1,065,630
votes were cast for the medical marijuana initiative which is slightly more
than the 1,062,897
that were cast for all U.S. Senate candidates combined. Non-traditional
voters and younger voters who normally do not vote in mid-term elections supported
these initiatives and a good number of them apparently voted a straight Democrat
party ticket. Therefore, the initiatives
and voter turnout that they generated were enough by themselves to account for
the Republican’s losses in the 4th Congressional district and for
the loss of seats in the state legislature.
County’s poorly administered voting system suppressed the vote in that county—67.25%
active* voter turnout compared to 79.4%
active voter turnout in Salt Lake
County. In fact, Utah County had the
lowest voter turnout in the state. Since
Republicans hold such a large edge in Utah County, that alone could be
considered the key factor for the loss of the 4th Congressional
Love’s decision to distance herself from President Trump may have cost her the
votes she needed to be re-elected since it almost certainly did not gain her
any Democrat votes and may have cost her just enough Republican votes to ensure
her defeat. If that weren’t enough, her
decision to collect campaign funds for a non-existent primary election allowed
the Progressive, Alliance
for a Better Utah, with its two Republican board members (Cheryl Allen and
to accuse her of campaign funding violations.
That put her on the defensive and drove a negative narrative
for much of the campaign.
Had the Republican Party been more unified,
it may have been able to get enough additional Republicans to the polls to save
the 4th Congressional district seat.
However, given the high voter turnout in Salt Lake County and the
foul-ups in Utah County’s voting system that still may not have been enough to
save that seat. And, even a united Republican
Party would almost certainly not have been able to save the Republican
legislative seats that were lost in Salt Lake and Weber Counties.
So, the bottom line is that party disunity
alone was not to blame for the loss of the 4th District seat and was
not the primary reason for the loss of legislative seats. If Republicans are really concerned about the
state turning purple, they would do well to focus on fixing Utah County’s
elections process, on finding a way to appeal to voters in an increasingly blue
Salt Lake County, developing a strategy for addressing challenges that come
with large numbers of people from blue states moving to Utah and on keeping Republican
elected officials from supporting a third party candidate for President in
2020 as they did in 2016. Finally, the
Party better keep an eye on tax modernization efforts by the governor and the
legislature because they have already alienated
many Republican and unaffiliated voters by trying to ram HB441—sales tax on
services—through the legislature using Washington D.C. style tactics.
*In order to get
voter turnout as high as possible, the state Elections Office uses the
percentage of “active voters” voting –an active voter is a voter who has voted
in the past several elections. This, of
course, is far higher than the percentage would be if it were based on the
number of eligible voters (whether registered or not) or on everyone who is registered
to vote. According to the Salt
Lake Tribune, the number of active voters is approximately 225,000 less
than total registered voters. And both
of these number are far lower than the total number of eligible voters. So, while statewide turnout of active voters
was 75.55%, the turnout of eligible voters was only 52%.