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Utah's primary vote to count

Published February 4, 2008 1:32 am

Romney win is likely; Democratic contest most closely watched
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON - Brace yourselves, Utahns: This time, your vote counts.

For the first time in recent memory, voters in the state will be able to cast ballots in the presidential primary contest before the winners are all but sewn up.

Both the Republican and Democratic races for the White House are still far from the finish line, so Utahns will have a chance to affect who in the end will get the Oval Office.

And with Republicans expecting to favor Mitt Romney in the state's primary, the most interesting news out of Utah on Tuesday will be who gets the Democratic nod: Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

"There is a feeling that it is very competitive," says Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.

While many residents feel a connection to Romney because of his Mormon faith, Democrats "have less connection to either of these candidates."

Which is why both candidates are fielding a big effort in the state, larger than previous Utah primaries. Clinton and Obama are on the air with television spots, both have paid staffers in the state and are throwing out surrogates to pitch their respective messages.

For the most part, voters will be able to cast ballots in either one of the two primaries. A majority of Utahns are independents - not registered with any party.

Republicans can, of course, vote in the GOP primary. So, too, can unaffiliated voters if they sign up to be a party member at the polls. (Some register as Republicans just for the vote, then immediately return to independent status.)

On the other side, Democrats and unaffiliated voters can cast ballots in that primary. (Members of other parties, such as the Green Party, will technically be considered unaffiliated voters, except for those registered in the Constitutional Party.)

Democrats will pledge 23 total delegates in their Utah primary on Tuesday, with eight of those going to the candidate who wins the most votes statewide. The other 15 will be doled out proportionally by the vote in each congressional district.

On the other side of the aisle, Utah has 36 Republican delegates up for grabs in a winner-take-all contest.

Those delegates are expected to go into Romney's column, given that the candidate shares his Mormon faith with more than 60 percent of the state's residents, ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and owns a home in the state. Other GOP contenders have visited the state to raise money but none of them is fielding a strong effort in the state to win over voters.

Still, observers are expecting a good turnout even if the GOP side isn't competitive.

"There is a phenomenal amount of interest in this primary," says Utah Republican Party chief Stan Lockhart. "I think they are going to come out in high numbers to make their will known."

But that hasn't been the case with early voting.

In Salt Lake County, only about 4 percent of registered voters had cast early ballots or submitted absentee ballots by Friday afternoon.

"For turnout, we're planning on about 40 percent," says County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. "But we're not sure we'll hit that."

Part of the low numbers so far could be attributed to the fluidity of the presidential contest. While former Sen. John Edwards and ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are on the ballots, for example, they have dropped out of the race and votes for them won't count. Voters may just be waiting to see who's still around.

"I really attribute that less to people being lethargic," says Joe Demma, aide to Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, the state's chief election officer. "Candidates are dropping out every other day. If a voter is seriously undecided, they may wait and see who's going to be on the ballot in a couple days."

Overall, Utah's primary likely won't shift the national contest one way or another because its delegate count is so small compared to some other states. But, as the resources Clinton and Obama are throwing into Utah show, every win matters.



* MATT CANHAM contributed to this report.

Utah by the numbers

* 1,709,629 registered voters

* 1,043,905 independent (not affiliated with any party), 61 percent

* 538,305 Republicans, 31 percent

* 125,992 Democrats,

7 percent

* 1,427 Constitution Party, 1 percent

Rules of the game

* Independent (small i) voters have a choice. They can vote in the Democratic primary just by asking for a ballot. If they are willing to sign up as a Republican at the polls, they can vote in the GOP primary.

* Registered Republicans can vote only in the GOP primary; registered Democrats only in the Democratic primary.




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