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GOP, Democratic conventions gave surprising conclusions



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SALT LAKE CITY — At both Republican and Democratic conventions Saturday, change seemed to be in the air. Some new faces emerged, and some familiar faces failed to win; important developments assisted the fascinating storylines move forward.

Orrin Hatch, the six-term senator, was forced into his first primary since 1976 by former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who received 40.8 percent of the delegate vote. Hatch failed to secure the 60 percent required by .8 percent.

Whichever candidate wins the June primary will face former Sen. Scott Howell, who won the delegate vote against Pete Ashdown at the Democratic Party convention.

Two years ago, incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett was voted out by delegates and some predicted a similar fate for Hatch. Hatch, who has faced attacks from Tea Party PAC Freedom Works, including last year's "Retire Hatch" campaign, may have been aided by Mitt Romney in this convention. Turnover in delegates and Romney's stratospheric popularity in Utah and his endorsement of Hatch surely aided the senator in staying in the race.

Still, Liljenquist is popular among senators according to a recent poll, a fact that could make for a tough primary.

Defying expectations: no primary GOP Congressional race

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In the 4th District, delegates gave Saratoga Springs may Mia Love 70 percent on a second ballot over former lawmaker Carl Wimmer.

While backing Wimmer, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff made a comment that generated a lot of buzz, both at the convention and in the blogosphere. It happened during the lead-up to the final round of voting for the 4th District.

"You have to please pick a person who has a proven record, who can beat Jim Matheson this fall — not a novelty — a proven conservative legislator," Shurtleff said. "I ask you to please vote for Carl Wimmer."

The word "novelty" drew many boos, and after Love took the nomination, Shurtleff tweeted that the word only referred to her newcomer status and that he had apologized to Love.

"I didn't even hear him say that," Love said. "It's not the focus of what we're trying to do. It's time for us to start uniting as republicans all together, so that we can get something done."

Love will face Democrat Jim Matheson, who has served six terms as Utah's 2nd Congressional District representative.

Another newcomer, Chris Stewart, won the GOP 2nd District Congressional nomination outright.


It's a conservative district, it deserves to be represented by a Republican. We think it will be.

–- Chris Stewart, GOP nominee


"It's a conservative district, it deserves to be represented by a Republican. We think it will be," Stewart said.

Governor Gary Herbert avoided a primary by garnering 63.3 percent of the GOP delegate vote. He will face Democrat Peter Cooke.

Democrats, too, boast some newcomers to races for Congress, like architect and Salt Lake City council member Soren Simonsen who won the nomination in the 3rd District.

"I believe we need to be setting the stage now for the next 20 or 30 years in infrastructure, in energy infrastructure," Simonsen said.

Influence of Mitt Romney among voters

Now, both parties will see if there's a "Mitt wave" — a Romney-inspired rising Republican tide to lift GOP contenders above Democratic nominees in Utah.

"No matter who is at the top of the ticket, I'm tremendously confident in the people of Utah," said Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis. "They're independent minded."

"Any Democrat who says Mitt at the top of the ticket is not a big deal is fooling themselves," said Utah Republican Party Chair Thomas Wright. "I would not want to be a Democrat on any ticket in 2012 in Utah."

Different delegates make all the difference

A letter from the LDS Church urged members to participate in elections, and both parties saw a surge of interest that drew in more moderates.


A lot of Mormons in Utah have felt alienated by what's happened to the Republican party, especially the Tea Party movement. And they've been looking for a place to call home.

–- Craig Janis, Democratic LDS Outreach


For Republicans, that seemed to dampen the Tea Party enthusiasm. It was mostly a bad day for high profile, former and current Republican state lawmakers.

David Clark, the former House Speaker, and conservatives Carl Wimmer and Steve Sandstrom all failed to not only win, but even get to a primary.

Democrats are renewing a push to get Mormons to join them. They started a Democratic LDS caucus in October.

Now it's their largest, bigger than the labor caucus, says the group's new coordinator.

"The LDS Dem's caucus started a couple of months ago, and now it's up to almost 2,000 members officially," said Democratic Party Volunteer Brian Spittler. "Just that prolific growth, in such a short amount of time, it's evidence that they've always been there but it just continues to build as more people find out about it."

That same movement away from the Tea Party has lead some into the arms of the Democratic Party.

"A lot of Mormons in Utah have felt alienated by what's happened to the Republican party, especially the Tea Party movement," said LDS Outreach Director for the Utah Democratic Party, Craig Janis. "And they've been looking for a place to call home."

The primaries will be held in June, followed by the general election in November.

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John Daley

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