outcome is no tilt to the right
By Rebecca Walsh
May 11, 2004
Utah Democrats want to believe the right wing of the
Republican Party took over this weekend's state convention,
booting a popular incumbent governor in favor of two
But they would be mistaken, according to political scientists,
pollsters and the candidates themselves.
Two days after Republican delegates sent former U.S.
Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. and State Board of Regents
Chairman Nolan Karras into a June 22 primary and Gov. Olene
Walker into the history books, Democratic Party Chairman
Donald Dunn and other top party members held a press
conference Monday on the Capitol steps in an attempt to boost
their own candidates in voters' minds.
"The radical right wing is really in control of things in
that party," said State Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake
City. "They got rid of a woman who supports education, a
woman who supports the bipartisan workings of state
Republican leaders scoffed at the Democrats' spin on the
"Donald Dunn dreams about the radical right wing,"
said Republican Party Chairman Joe Cannon. "But it's
pretty hard to argue Jon Huntsman and Nolan Karras are
right-wing extremists. For all the hopes and dreams of Donald
Dunn about the freaky, wacko Republican convention, we've got
some pretty electable people."
Kelly Patterson, Brigham Young University Political Science
Department chairman, agreed.
"They knocked a moderate out of the race," he said.
"They did not knock the moderates out of the race."
Pre-convention polls of the 3,500 GOP delegates found that
most were men who characterized themselves as very
conservative and in favor of tuition tax credits and allowing
concealed weapons on college campuses. Still, those delegates
nominated two of the more moderate hopefuls in a field of
eight gubernatorial candidates.
"I've been called everything from a Democrat to a
right-winger in a span of a few months," Huntsman said
Monday. "This convention was different than any we've had
in recent memory. It was more reflective and more
representative of the political leanings of the state. It
produced two candidates who are traditional, Reagan
Republicans. We defy easy categorization. To call us
right-wing radicals is very inadequate."
Karras running mate Enid Greene just laughed at Dunn's
"Nobody labels Nolan Karras an extremist anything,"
Some delegates apparently judged candidates by their support
of tuition tax credits for private school tuition or a new
state law returning the proceeds of property forfeited in
criminal cases to law enforcement.
Merit Medical founder Fred Lampropoulos' $2 million investment
in the race contributed to his spot in third place. And
Huntsman's built-in name recognition caught delegates'
But others waited to hear the candidates' speeches. Before
Saturday, pollster Dan Jones found about 15 percent of
delegates were undecided. For those delegates, Walker's
disjointed, hurried speech probably didn't help her, Jones
said. But Greene's self-deprecating joke
-- "I chose the wrong man once and I'm not about to do it
again" about her ex-husband Joe Waldholtz and his role in
her illegally financed 1994 campaign for Congress -- charmed
the convention audience and might have earned Karras some
votes, he said.
While much has been made of Walker's veto of the Carson Smith
Special Needs Scholarship legislation, her late entry in the
race and perhaps a hint of baggage from former Gov. Mike
Leavitt's two-plus terms in office, and concerns about
Walker's age -- at 73, she was the oldest candidate running --
may have played a larger role in her defeat.
"Governor Walker reminds me of my mother," delegate
Mark Steele wrote in an e-mail. "I loved and respected my
mother and recognized her as an extremely capable and good
woman. But when she was in her mid-70s, I wouldn't have
selected her to run a state."
In rounds of so-called "instant runoff voting," the
most conservative candidates were eliminated first -- Gary
Benson, then Provo Sen. Parley Hellewell and so on. Each time,
the eliminated candidate's votes were redistributed among
conservative candidates, said Patterson.
The moderates -- Walker, Huntsman and Karras -- ended up
competing for the same votes.
"It was a case of the moderate wing of the Republican
Party only being able to back one candidate throughout,"
Patterson said. But when Walker was eliminated in the sixth
round of counting, votes from her supporters pushed Karras
into his final position.
Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to