If my Republican precinct caucus Thursday night was representative of those held across the state, then incumbents like Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert don’t have a lot to worry about.
We had an enormous turnout at our SLC054 (downtown Salt Lake City) precinct meeting, and the tone was overwhelmingly moderate and supportive of Hatch, Herbert, and Mitt Romney. There were a few anti-Hatch people, but they were vastly outnumbered. When one person spoke against Hatch, several others jumped to his defense.
Interestingly, it was obvious that no candidate had attempted to organize the precinct and target the delegate positions. Despite the big turnout and a lot of very capable people in attendance, not many people were nominated or nominated themselves for delegate positions and the precinct leadership offices. Only a couple of people sought each position and it was all very friendly and clearly not orchestrated.
Of course, Republicans living in downtown Salt Lake City are probably a lot more moderate than many living in Utah County or Davis County, where some monumental battles no doubt occurred between Tea Partiers and more mainstream people. So it’s impossible to draw any real conclusions about the ideological makeup of the delegates selected or who they support.
But my sense is that the big push to increase caucus turnout by the LDS Church, the business community, by interest groups, and by the Hatch campaign, probably resulted in more mainstream delegates being selected. I don’t think the Tea Party/right-wing campaign to get their supporters out was as big as the more mainstream efforts.
Time will tell, of course. The candidates now have a chance to woo the 4,000 state delegates one-on-one and in small groups. There isn’t a lot of time as the state convention will be held on April 21. It takes enormous organizational prowess to court 4,000 delegates and get to most of them with a personal appeal. It will be a test of campaign capability.
The outside groups, FreedomWorks and FreedomPath, will no doubt inundate the delegates with negative messages for and against Hatch and his competitors. But I’m not sure they’re having much effect. Delegates will quickly tire of the negative attacks on both sides, and a backlash could easily occur.
So now we’re in the second phase of Utah’s four-step election process. The focus is all on the delegates for the next five weeks, culminating in the big state convention.