This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Cleveland • On the convention floor, Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans took the microphone and proclaimed that not only would the party's nominee, Donald Trump, win the Beehive State in November, but he would get his largest margin of victory in the nation there.
It was a bold prediction that surprised even some delegates standing around him. Recent polls have vacillated between a tie and a small Trump lead. An internal poll conducted for Rep. Mia Love two weeks ago found Trump at 29 percent, Clinton at 27 percent and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson at 26 percent.
That was, however, before Trump picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the button-down anti-Trump, to be his running mate and before the party's four-day convention in Cleveland.
Both of those events, Evans believes, will begin to solidify Utah Republican support behind Trump.
Evans said Trump's nomination speech "laid out that he is a serious person for president and that, to me, he can clearly defeat Hillary on the issues."
"Utahns are going to come through because the level of distaste for Hillary is so deep."
Gov. Gary Herbert had reservations about Trump and still hopes for a one-on-one meeting with the nominee, but he attended a lunch in Cleveland during which Trump and Pence spoke, and he is comfortable that the tandem will pick good Supreme Court nominees and give states more leeway to solve problems without "federal overreach."
The governor said other Utahns will come around once they realize the only real choice is between Trump and Clinton.
"I'm certainly not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, because she is just the opposite of what I want to have happen. She's not going to shrink the federal government, she's going to grow it. She's going to spend more money. She's going to raise taxes," Herbert said. "I feel a lot better about it because of Mike Pence."
That, along with perhaps dialing down the typical Trump style, could be the recipe for success for the Republican nominee in Utah, said Jason Perry, executive director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
"To win over Utahns, Trump needs to tone down the hard-line rhetoric when it comes to immigrants and religious minorities. That doesn't play well in Utah, given Mormon history," Perry said. "At the end of the day, though, many Utahns will vote for Trump simply because he's not Hillary Clinton. Republican loyalists believe Utah will stay red because of strong anti-Hillary sentiment here."
The fact that there is even a question that Trump would win Utah is astonishing no Democratic presidential nominee has won Utah since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and shows the deep-seated distaste for the Republican nominee.
Trump is faring poorly among groups that traditionally have been solidly Republican, especially Utah women and Mormons, according to a recent poll conducted for The Tribune and the Hinckley Institute.
"I don't think they can ignore Utah. It's important that they come out. … I still think Trump will win Utah, but they can't take it for granted," said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who is still not behind Trump after the Cleveland convention, although he said the Pence pick helps. "What we saw from Mike Pence is what Utahns are looking for. That's the type of speech that brings Utah Republicans to the party."
House Speaker Greg Hughes also believes teamwork, specifically the addition of Pence, will help sway voters.
"This team is a formidable team that Trump has put together, with Mike Pence as the vice presidential nominee; it will resonate with Utahns, and I think we will ultimately, by the fall, be a state that is strongly in the column of Donald Trump," Hughes said. "For Utahns, their comfort level will increase."
Trump may be brash, Hughes said, but traditional politicians have left the country $20 trillion in debt.
"To change the trajectory, you very well may need the brashness and a headstrong commander-in-chief who will lead a Congress and lead a country in a better direction," he said. "Utahns will see that in the coming months."
Bill Reagan, the founder of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, has long been a major donor to Republican causes, giving thousands to Trump and other nominees before him.
Reagan said it's unlikely that Trump can get the financial backing from Utah that it gave Romney, who is Mormon and ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in the state, but he does expect money to flow to the nominee.
"Romney was a unique situation," said Reagan, who attended a special donors luncheon with Trump and Pence on the last day of the convention. "When people get thinking about what's at stake and the Supreme Court appointments are very significant," Republicans will give.
Mike Mower, deputy chief of staff for Herbert, was on the fence before the Cleveland convention, but now he says he will vote for Trump, mainly because of his concern about vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court.
If Trump wants to improve his standing in Utah, Mower said, he needs to hammer on that point and bring in a conservative, more traditionally Republican voice.
"Send Pence to town a lot," Mower said.
Pence is expected come to Utah in the near future, although no dates have been set. It may be seen as an early attempt to raise some money and take Utah out of play so efforts can be focused on the traditional battleground states.
But Trump shouldn't hide behind his vice presidential nominee, according to Thomas Wright, a former chairman of the state party and Utah's new Republican national committeeman. He wants Trump to come back to Utah and "get to know the voters, share your values and share your platform."
The last time Trump came to town was in March in the days leading up to Utah's presidential caucus, where he finished a distant third. At a small rally in Salt Lake City, Trump questioned the Mormon faith of Mitt Romney, one of his biggest critics.
"The personal [attacks need] to be left out," Wright said, "But it would be nice of him to come to Utah and let us get to know him better."
For Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, the "personal stuff" is inseparable from the candidate. Ruzicka said her mind didn't change during the convention "Not at all" and she will probably write in another Republican in November.
"It would be wonderful if somewhere along the line we began to hear things from him that we could support, things like, 'I'm sorry' for the things he's said that demeaned and hurt people and he stops bullying people and starts acting like a Republican," she said.
She said his praise for Planned Parenthood and history of supporting abortion are issues that are important to her and likely will cause many other Utahns concern.
"He has lived an immoral life and cheated on his wives, and he's demeaned women and he's always supported abortion and gay marriage and all those things, and now all the sudden, because he wants to be the president of the United States," he is changing, Ruzicka said. "At this point in my life, I don't see any way I'm going in the direction of supporting him. But I never say never, because wherever the Lord takes me is where I'll go."