A new post-convention survey shows Republican delegates were highly offended by an inflammatory flier that used an image of an LDS temple and popular Mormon phrases to disparage Sen. Bob Bennett.
GOP delegates saw the use of the religious symbols as inappropriate and the direct-mail piece -- purporting to support Senate candidate Mike Lee -- may have been among the factors that cost Lee his front-runner status at the Utah Republican Convention earlier this month, according to a survey by Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
"It was very offensive to most who received it and most who heard about it," said Ryan McCoy, who was Lee's campaign manager.
The mailer, which arrived in delegates' mailboxes on the eve of the convention, showed Lee's picture above the LDS Temple and Bennett's above the U.S. Capitol and asked, "Which Candidate Really Has Utah Values?"
More than a third believed, at least initially, that the flier came from the Lee campaign. Delegates -- 90 percent of whom identified themselves as Mormon -- told Lee volunteers it was disgusting that the campaign would send out such material, McCoy said.
"We literally had hundreds of people at convention asking about it," he said. "I spent probably a solid 10 minutes with the mayor of Ogden trying to convince him that we didn't send it out."
The blowback may have been one of several factors that hurt Lee's performance at convention, said Kelly Patterson, director of the BYU center.
"It may have spattered some mud on the Lee campaign," he said. "It wouldn't be the cause of them not voting for Mike Lee, but may have been one more reason to begin to look more seriously at Tim Bridgewater."
A preconvention survey showed Lee riding high and the favorite to come out on top. But he finished behind Bridgewater on the final ballot. The two will square off in a June 22 primary.
Patterson said the postconvention poll also showed that Bridgewater's speech impressed delegates and may have played a part in the outcome, as well.
Bridgewater and Lee had similar approval ratings, which Patterson said could mean that delegates viewed them as basically interchangeable.
The tea party dominated the convention, according to the preconvention survey, with 85 percent of delegates viewing the movement favorably (43 percent saw themselves as active supporters and 61 percent had attended a rally or meeting).
That survey found 97 percent of the GOP delegates believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, a figure that astounded Patterson and made it a tough fight for Bennett.
"This is a very hard campaign for an incumbent to win," Patterson said, "when you talk about 97 percent of the delegates think the nation is off on the wrong track."
For about half the delegates, it was the first time they had been elected to the spot. They overwhelmingly opposed the Obama administration's stimulus and health-insurance plans and were split on the Legislature's $1 per-pack tobacco-tax increase.
To view the BYU center's pre- and post-convention surveys, go to http://tinyurl.com/38a7xaz