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Mitt Romney is attacking plans by the Utah Republican Party to hold a presidential caucus next year instead of a direct primary.
He sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders urging them to pass a bill to create a presidential primary, as has been held in recent elections.
Romney, who recently declared Utah home and registered to vote here, said if a caucus were held, "tens of thousands fewer voters will participate in the process. It is a bad decision."
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee added, "Having participated in presidential election processes nationwide, it is clear to me that the more citizens involved, the better the result."
In a caucus, voters gather in neighborhood meetings to discuss candidates and then vote. The Utah Republican Party also plans to allow its voters to skip the meeting and cast a ballot online if they prefer. In contrast, a direct primary would have people go to polling places to cast ballots or vote by mail.
Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said he believes a caucus would create more turnout than a primary, adding that Romney's letter "is an unfortunate assessment not based on fact. ... But I still love Governor Romney and I want him to be president."
Last month, Utah GOP leaders voted to hold a presidential caucus March 22, 2016. Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephraim, has sponsored HB329, which instead would authorize a direct primary on the same day. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing Thursday morning in the House Government Operations Committee.
Evans said even if Cox's bill passes, the Utah Republican Party would still hold a caucus anyway. He adds that the national party would recognize the results of the caucus as the process chosen by the state party so a presidential primary could waste money on results that would not count.
"This is a party function," Evans said. "This is our decision to make," not the state's.
Evans said the letter from Romney "is all about SB54," a compromise law enacted last year that changes how Utah parties select nominees. The Utah GOP is suing to overturn it and has lobbied for a variety of bills that would delay or alter it. Evans said Romney's letter is meant to poke at such efforts.
That new law allows candidates to qualify for a primary either by gathering signatures or going through the caucus-convention system. It was a compromise to stop a ballot initiative by Count My Vote that would have replaced conventions with a direct primary. Romney endorsed Count My Vote.
Romney's letter Wednesday said the party's decision for a presidential caucus "is indicative of an unfortunate pattern where party leadership seems to reject wide participation in favor of small groups of people making decisions for the rest of us."
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he is not looking to intervene in the party's decision on the presidential caucus, "but I appreciate the perspective from Governor Romney."