Now that the primary is over, does Utah, an overwhelmingly Republican state, lose relevance as the presidential contest unfolds from here on out? Does the fact that Utah trends for the GOP bode for minimal focus here by the candidates heading to November on the presumption the state will go for Republican President Donald Trump, seeking his second term?
Leah Murray, a Weber State University political science professor, for one, doesn’t foresee much presidential buzz here. If you’re in to seeing live presidential speeches, you may be out of luck. You may have to get your fill from the media.
“I do not think Utah will be interesting this year. There is not enough distaste to cause a rift — Republicans are loyal,” she said.
Bob Hunter, director of the Olene Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State, suspects Utah will sway Republican in November. “Utah will vote for Trump in the general election. It’s his to lose,” he said.
As such, only if the battle between Trump and the eventual Democratic nominee is tight will political watchers look to Utah. “Regarding a role we might play in the general election — if it’s a close race, Utah’s vote for Trump may make a difference, otherwise not,” Hunter said.
Independent presidential hopeful Evan McMullin threw a wrench in presidential voting in Utah in 2016, siphoning likely support from Trump and garnering 21.5% of the vote that year. Still, Trump was the top vote-getter, garnering 45.5% of the vote to 27.5% for Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee.
A look at the ballots cast Tuesday underscores the deep red hue of Utah politics.
A total of 518,932 ballots were cast in Tuesday’s primary in Utah, according to preliminary figures from the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Of those, 324,272 were cast for Republicans, 62.5% of the total, to 194,660, or 37.5%, for Democrats. What’s more, Trump by himself garnered 285,522 votes, outnumbering all the Democratic candidates combined, who collectively received 194,660 votes, by a 59.5%-40.5% margin.
Trump easily beat out five challengers on the GOP site, garnering 88.1% of the Republican vote, according to preliminary tallies. Sanders was the top vote-getter on the Democratic side, garnering 34.8% of the Democratic vote in a tighter contest that included 15 candidates in all, some of them who have dropped their presidential runs.
GOP dominance here notwithstanding, Hunter notes that Utah will host a debate between the U.S. vice presidential hopefuls, which will put something of a spotlight on the state. “That will give us good publicity and a chance to entertain the national and international media,” Hunter said.
Matthew Patterson, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, suspects — probably not surprisingly — that there will be interest in Utah for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee. The primary results “show the national folks there’s a lot of energy in Utah. People are willing to vote Democratic in 2020. They want to see change in the White House,” he said.
Moreover, he received a few queries from Republicans interesting in voting Democratic in Tuesday’s primary given their dissatisfaction with Trump. And even if Utah doesn’t ultimately budge from Trump, dissatisfaction with him, he hopes, could have an impact further down the ticket, resulting in more votes for other Democratic candidates.
A rep from the Utah Republican Party didn’t immediately respond to a query seeking comment.
SPLIT BETWEEN RADICALS, MODERATES
As for Tuesday’s results on the Democratic side, Murray, the Weber State political scientist, said they show that Democrats in the state are “evenly split between a Sanders radical voice and a moderate voice.” Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, another left-leaning candidate, garnered 98,722 votes between them. The more moderate hopefuls, Joe Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, garnered 92,153 votes between them.
Hunter echoed that, but also singled out Sanders for coming out on top on the Democratic side.
Utah has the youngest population in the country, which “equates to families with lots of kids who desire better health care options,” Hunter said. “Bernie’s proposed policy on healthcare answers that.”
Likewise, Sanders’ education policies speak to younger people in the state “struggling to pay for their education,” Hunter said. Young people “are tired of the lack of responsiveness in Washington. They’re impatient.”