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Tuesday, May 11, 2010
More Convention Notes and Aftermath

A real one-vote margin. An impressive twelve year old. A cautionary and revealing tale of closed and open primaries, in the context of Chase Everton's proposed caper.

Here are a few more notes on the Utah State Republican Party Nomination Convention, which was held Saturday in Salt Lake City, and its developing aftermath.

There is continued hand-wringing over Utah's political process supposedly being hijacked by right-wing radicals, and over the alleged injustice of the convention system itself. There's some discussion of all that in yesterday's post, and we'll dig into it a little deeper sometime soon -- but not today.

Today's comments pertain to the race for the US House of Representatives in Utah's Second District, the seat currently occupied by Democrat Jim Matheson. Matheson faces a primary challenge from the left, in the person of Claudia Wright, which is interesting in itself, not to mention a first for Matheson.

Sometimes One Vote Really Does Matter

On the Republican side, the two major candidates were Morgan Philpot and Neil Walter. The first ballot eliminated a minor candidate, Ed Eliason, but neither Philpot nor Walter had 60 percent of the vote, so there was a second ballot. On the second ballot, Philpot's votes went from about 56 percent of the total to 60.13 percent.

I looked up the actual numbers of votes and checked the math. Philpot avoided a primary race with Neil Walter by one vote. You don't see an honest-to-goodness one-vote margin every day. If it pleases you, or if it vexes you but you're pleased to be vexed, feel free to consider that one vote . . .


Meanwhile, Neil Walter is a smart, articulate, impressive fellow, and I hope this campaign does not end his presence in our politics. I'd like to see him again. The present experience served him well; he was a much stronger candidate at the end than at the beginning.

In 2024 This Kid Can Run for Congress

Neil has a twelve-year-old cousin named Seleck Rigby, who, by the time he was finished introducing the candidate, was right up there with the national anthem in the hearts of the delegates. We gave him an enthusiastic ovation, louder and more unanimous that the one Congressman Jason Chaffetz received, I believe. Neil's own blog says that the boy "stole the show." He was poised, articulate, impressive. His speech is the first minute and half, roughly, of this YouTube video.

A Cautionary Tale and a Stereotype

KSL reported this morning that conservative activist Chase Everton has hatched a scheme to help the Democrats defeat Congressman Jim Matheson in the June 22 primary election, so the Republicans won't have to do it in November. The idea is for a lot of Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary for Matheson's opponent, Claudia Wright, thus electing a presumably weaker candidate, whom Republican Morgan Philpot would be more likely to defeat.

The talking heads are scandalized; how could such a barbaric thing happen? They're manipulating the electoral process!

Setting aside the unspeakable horror of it all for a moment, and the likelihood that most Republicans will want to vote in the Republican primary, for the sake of the Senate race, there is room for doubt about the wisdom of the scheme. There are some long-term risks, too, but the obvious short-term risks are that Wright will actually be harder to defeat, especially with the momentum of having vanquished a Matheson, if she wins; and, if Matheson wins, that this caper will galvanize his support among independents and sour some voters on Philpot -- which Philpot cannot afford.

But there's more to this picture -- or maybe what I want to say is, there's less to this picture. In recent years, since Utah Republicans closed their primaries to voters who do not belong to the party -- which I think is perfectly reasonable -- the Democrats and the talking heads have spared no condescension, no expression of self-righteousness. You see, they are the inclusive, inviting party, which wants everyone to vote in their primary, party member or not. We rotten Republicans are trying to hoard the votes in our primaries for ourselves.

In such discussions, one commonly hears defenders of closed primaries cite the possibility of just such a caper as Everton's as a compelling reason not to open a primary. Now it's happening -- or at least might be happening -- to the very people who mocked the rest of us for postulating such a possibility.

If we wanted to indulge in stereotypes, we might see in this a typical conservative/liberal divergence. The liberals favor the things that sound nice, the good intentions -- in this case the welcoming arms of an open primary -- and care little for the predictable consequences down the road. The conservatives look ahead to the predictable consequences of a policy -- and are mocked for doing so and scorned for lacking compassion.

To be sure, if people want to vote in a closed primary, all they have to do is join the party. They can change their affilitation again the next day, if they want to. So this caper would be only slightly impeded by a closed Democratic primary, unless they decide that you have to have been a party member for three months before you can vote in the primary. (Even if that's legal -- I really have no idea -- I promise you they do not want that rule.)

At least it would be a slight impediment. Someone wanting to participate would have to change parties, vote, then change parties again, rather than just showing up and voting. It would filter out some of the [insert noun of choice here].

I'm Defending the Closed Primary, not the Exploiter of Open Primaries

Everton's caper is not the most honorable approach to politics, I suppose. But it's within the rules which the Democrats have made for their own primary and defended at times with great sanctimony.

I doubt that Everton intended this to be an instructional or cautionary tale on the subject of open and closed primaries. But it's more than a little disingenuous for the Democrats to make the rules and trumpet their moral superiority, then complain when someone proposes to follow the rules in an effort to affect the outcome of an election.

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