Rare are the times when one may say: “All politics is different from now on.”
But in Utah, such a statement is fair observation over the next few months.
Never before have we had one candidate – maybe even two candidates – who are going on a major party’s primary ballot, yet ignore their party’s convention delegates.
That is the case this spring and summer with Tanner Ainge in the Republican special nomination process in the 3rdCongressional District.
And depending on how Provo Mayor John Curtis is received Saturday in the GOP 3rd District convention, he, too, may advance to the Aug. 15 primary election with little support or respect from the 1,085 3rd District delegates.
Curtis is taking both the signature and convention route at the same time, as allowed under SB54.
He could finish last in Saturday’s convention (he’ll probably do better than that) and he will still be on the Aug. 15 GOP primary ballot.
Ainge, son of BYU basketball and NBA star Danny Ainge, is completely bypassing the GOP nominating process of old – paying little heed to the state delegates.
As allowed under SB54, Ainge took only the GOP voter signature route. He successfully gathered 7,000 signatures from 3rd District voters. (So did Curtis.)
Ainge will not be on the convention ballot. We will see if he even shows up at the convention at Timpview High School – he doesn’t have to under Utah law. He won’t get a speaking spot because he’s not taking the convention route.
But more than that.
On the official state Republican Party website is a high-tech, video “debate” – where all GOP candidates can give opening and closing remarks and answer a dozen specific question in short videos.
Ainge didn’t participate at all in this online debate format. Most other GOP candidates did, including Curtis.
Ainge is clearly thumbing his nose at the delegates – even a bit at the Utah GOP organization itself by skipping the online debate.
This is unprecedented in modern Utah history.
The only thing close was the on-again, off again GOP campaigns of former Republican U.S. Rep. Merrill Cook, who abandoned the official GOP apparatus several times to run for governor and the 2nd Congressional District as an independent – outside of the GOP.
Cook lost both those independent races, by the way, rejoined the party in 1996, barely survived multiple ballots in the state GOP convention to get on a 2nd District primary ballot, where he won the GOP nomination and later the general election.
But Republicans never really forgave him; Cook lost the GOP nomination in 2000 – and Republicans lost the seat to Democrat Jim Matheson.
The 3rd District today is solidly Republican.
And whoever wins the GOP nomination in the closed Aug. 15 primary (you will have to live in the district and be a registered Republican to vote), will almost certainly be elected to the U.S. House in November.
But if the nominee is Ainge – even if it’s Curtis – the fact that neither man either went before GOP delegates, or finished poorly by them, will change forever the politics of Republican Party campaigning in Utah.
I, for one, will not mourn the death of Republican convention hardline delegates in picking a nominee – if that is what ultimately happens in the 3rd District this year.
The delegate system has not served Utah well – it has given us some right-wing GOP lawmakers who don’t reflect their own more moderate Republican constituents, much less Democrats and independents.
But know this -- if Ainge or Curtis is elected to the 3rd District, watch the new congressman being attacked from his political right for years – as the disappointed and disaffected GOP delegates and the party’s right wing strive to regain their power – lost in the 2017 special U.S. House election.