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Gehrke: For all the hoopla, signature path to the ballot is a long shot

Published May 26, 2017 6:59 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo Mayor John Curtis' decision to gather signatures to get on the party ballot as well as go to convention is not surprising ¬≠— conventional wisdom is he will fare better in a primary than at convention — but he and anyone else going the signature path has a steep climb ahead.

Here's why: To collect the 7,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot candidates need one of two things:

A) a lot of volunteers and time, or



B) they need a lot of money.

The first one is out. The compressed time frame has made it impossible, from a purely practical standpoint, to file and get enough people knocking on enough doors to gather that many signatures by June 12.

That leaves them with the second choice as the only real option, and that is hiring professional signature gatherers to fan out and knock on doors. That's not cheap. Tanner Ainge has hired the signature collection firm Gather to round up his signatures at a projected cost of about $10 to $12 per signature, meaning he'll pay at least $70,000 and, if you factor in a buffer for signatures that might get thrown out, as much as $90,000.

The biggest problem with all this, one nobody has really focused on, is that the money for those signature gatherers either has to come through federal hard-money contributions — capped at just $2,700 per person — or the candidate has to pay for it out of his or her own pocket and hope they win and can raise the money later to recoup the cost.

Bringing in maximum donations from 25 different contributors is not easy and every day spent fundraising is a day lost in signature gathering.

State Sen. Deidre Henderson, for example, has about $44,000 in her campaign account at the end of the year, but she can't really spend any of that on a run for federal office. Sen. Margaret Dayton and Rep. Brad Daw have considerably less in their legislative campaign accounts, but face the same federal prohibition.

Curtis is in the same boat. If he has money left in his city campaign account — which is unclear, since I can't seem to find the filings on the city's website — it would be off-limits for his congressional run.

So it's not terribly surprising that, of the candidates who have filed to run for the seat, less than half —¬†Republicans Curtis, Ainge and Brigham Rhead Cottam and Democrats Carl Ingwell and Benjamin Frank — have said they plan to gather signatures, and Curtis and both of the Democrats are smart to hedge their bets and commit to going to the party convention, as well.

That said, the inclusion of signature candidates in the primary generally, and the Republican primary in particular, could create an interesting dynamic.

The Republican Party changed its bylaws at the convention last week so that party delegates will choose one candidate to be the party's nominee. But that candidate could still have to face Curtis and Ainge in the primary, assuming those two get enough signatures.

In that scenario, the more moderate candidates — yes, these things are all relative — the moderate vote could be splintered and you could have the more conservative candidate win the nomination with just over a third of the vote.

Some Republican lawmakers have made a big deal about plurality election wins since SB54 passed. I don't think it's a big deal, but they've insisted elections should be won with at least a majority of the vote — unless, presumably, you're Donald Trump winning Utah in the last presidential election. Efforts to resolve the plurality issue have always broken down because of disagreements over whether to let delegates decide the winner if no one gets a majority, or to stage a costly runoff election.

So a guy like former state Rep. Chris Herrod, whose firebrand conservatism could do well at convention, could come out of the convention and win the primary. The irony is that he has been one of the most rabid critics of SB54 since it passed and has fought for its repeal at every turn.

Yet not only does a scenario exist where he could find himself in Congress as a result of the system he condemned, but I would go so far as to say that, given the dynamics of the field, it is the ONLY scenario where he could win.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

 

 

 

 

 

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