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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
RAQ: Utah's Senate Race and the System Generally

Recently Asked Questions and answers about the Mike Lee-Tim Bridgewater Senate race, the caucus/convention system, and . . . how do we really know what we're doing?

I could have answered some of these questions in an FAQ, because they are frequently asked. Some others I've been asked only once, however, so I'm calling this an RAQ, for Recently Asked Questions. That title fits them all.

Republican Race for US Senate in Utah

Q. In the Republican Senate primary race between Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, who's winning the endorsement battle?

A. A better question might be, How important are endorsements? The answer to that is, I don't know. They don't have much effect on me, but that's just me. If the race is close, I suppose a small effect can loom quite large. . . . As to who's winning . . . Bridgewater is rumored to be getting Senator Bennett's endorsement this week; that is probably more consequential than Cherilyn Eagar's, which he got the other day. She's a right-wing radical with a limited following, even if one of KSL's NightSide guys did try to label her mainstream the other day. I doubt her endorsement has much effect on the voters at large, and I'm not sure whether it would be a positive or negative effect overall. Bennett's endorsement is probably worth something, but there are some real negatives there, too, especially this year. Mike Lee has the endorsement of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, which might matter most of all, and he's picking up some Tea Party-related endorsements lately, which I would have thought would go to Bridgewater (notably the Tea Party Express). Lee also just got Ron Paul's endorsement (which may be a net positive), to go with Jim DeMint's, Rick Santorum's, and so forth. So the short answer is, maybe Mike Lee for the moment?

Q. What do you think of all the negative campaigning in the Senate race?

A. As far as I can tell, there's a lot more whining about negative campaigning going on than there is actual negative campaigning. Bridgewater says Lee is a Washington lawyer and compares him to Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama. Maybe that's a little negative, and the comparisons are silly and pose the risk of appearing desperate. Lee says Bridgewater is a businessman with an undue fondness for government money; maybe that's a little negative, too -- but only a little. The people who expect me to be distraught over Bridgewater having had some government contracts are as detached from reality as the ones who think their pointing out that Lee is an attorney will automatically deprive him of my vote. So far, most of the whining is coming from the Bridgewater camp -- he even has a whiny radio ad out -- and that costs Bridgewater some credibility with me.

Q. What about the mystery mailer just before the convention, showing Mike Lee, Senator Bennett, and a picture of the Salt Lake LDS Temple, and asking which candidate has Utah values?

A. You mean, besides that fact that it was probably illegal? I suspect that it slightly hurts whichever campaign people think was behind it. At first, some thought it was the Lee campaign, and it probably hurt him. Now it seems to have been more closely connected with Senator Bennett (see this AP story), and some people think they see a tie to Tim Bridgewater. In the end, it probably ends up mattering very little.

Q. Is this where you recommend some interesting survey results?

A. Yes. The BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy polled state Republican delegates before and after the convention on a variety of topics and published its results. I myself responded to both surveys. Where the mystery mailer is concerned, about 75% found it offensive. About 32% said it made them more likely to vote for someone other than the two candidates in the mailer, Mike Lee and Senator Robert Bennett. Here's a scattering of other interesting results:

  • 97.4% of state Republican delegates think the country is on the wrong track.
  • 24% attended their first precinct caucus this year.
  • About 50% of state delegates reported it was their first time as a state delegate.
  • 26.5% didn't intend to run for state delegate when they went to their precinct caucuses.
  • Depending on how you read the numbers, about 72% were not committed to a candidate they wanted to support by attending the caucus.
  • 2.3% support ObamaCare.
  • Asked before the convention for whom they would vote for in a final ballot between US Senate candidates Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, delegates responded about 57% to 43% in favor of Mike Lee. The actual results in the final ballot at convention almost exactly reversed those numbers.
  • About 85% of delegates reported happy feelings about the Tea Party movement, though only half of those claimed to be members of it.
  • 93.5% use the Internet at least daily.
  • Only 0.2% didn't graduate high school. 3.2% graduated but didn't go beyond high school. 22% reported "some college," while 36% have undergraduate degree but no more, and a whopping 38.6% have done graduate work.
  • 90% are LDS (Mormon).
  • 92% are married.
  • About half make $85,000 per year or more.
  • A fair summary of several questions about delegates' attitudes toward the caucus/convention/primary process in Utah would be, overwhelming support for it and little interest in changing it.
  • 95% would like to be delegates in the future.

Q. So you're still supporting Mike Lee?

A. I've already voted for Mike Lee -- but not because of a little negative campaigning or excessive whining about it. It's because I think are national problems are fundamentally constitutional in nature, and I want a smart, conservative constitutional lawyer representing me in Washington more than I want a smart, conservative businessman.

Q. Do you think Mike Lee will win? What if he doesn't?

A. I'm beginning to think he'll win. At and after the state convention, I wondered, because Bridgewater is a more seasoned candidate, and he sucked up most of Bob Bennett's and Cherilyn Eagar's support among the delegates even without endorsements, once Eagar and Bennett were eliminated. But the Lee campaign has raised itself up a notch in energy and a few notches in focus and professionalism. There's also a poll afoot suggesting Mike Lee leads among decided voters by almost ten percent. I don't get too excited about that, because the undecideds are so numerous that such a lead doen't mean a great deal. But it's something. My enthusiasm for Bridgewater has slipped a little because of the whiny tone of his campaign lately, as I said, but, if he wins, I'll happily support him against the Democrat, Sam Granato. I'll mourn the lost opportunity -- of sending Mike Lee to Washington, that is -- but I don't think Bridgewater would be a bad senator.

The Caucus/Convention/Primary System

Q. There was a lot of complaining, perhaps led by the Deseret News, after Senator Bennett's defeat in convention. It was said that the caucus/convention/primary system is unfair, not democratic enough, not representative enough, etc. What do you think?

A. First of all, when the Deseret News complained because women weren't sufficiently represented in the process, they were being childish, narrow-minded, and -- dare I say? -- petulant. Besides the fact that the time to evaluate a system is when everyone is cool-headed, not in the wake of a result some didn't like at all . . . Since when do we believe that only women can represent women, and that men represent only men? To insist that group identity matters more than individual identity, as the Deseret News suggests, is to make the most undemocratic argument I can imagine. People who make such an argument either are not thinking it through or lack the most basic American political faith in representative government.

Q. How did things go at your caucus? Were there women there? Were they allowed to speak, vote, and run for precinct office?

A. When I cast my votes at my precinct caucus, I voted for some women and some men, but their genders didn't enter into my thinking at all -- just their politics and, in a case or two, friendship. As to the system itself, any registered voter is free to declare himself or herself a Republican. Any declared Republican, male or female, may attend his or her precinct caucus, vote for officers and delegates, and even run for one or more of these offices. That's pretty democratic. In my precinct caucus, the genders were roughly even in number, not that it matters. In any case, when the caucuses were over, about 3500 men and women had been elected by their neighbors to evaluate and vote on candidates at the state convention; that's pretty representative. Several times that many delegates were elected to county conventions with a similar mandate. The delegates I know worked hard, studied and listened carefully, and thought seriously about the issues and the candidates before choosing whom to support. Maybe some didn't, but surely the percentage who did will be higher than the percentage of primary voters who study candidates and issues carefully before next week's election.

Q. So you wouldn't change the system?

A. No. It's not the only way to structure a representative democracy, and I haven't always liked the results, but it works better that free-for-all primaries. It's better at eliminating crackpots and extremists, and it makes elected office a bit more accessible for people who don't own explosives factories (for example). Anyone who wants to can get involved at a grassroots level, and making a difference from that level is actually in the realm of possibility.

Finally, a Very Good, Very Common Question

Q. So we study the candidates and their positions as best we can; we consider their records, if such exist; we try to take the measure of their character. How can we know that the ones who say what we want to hear and seem sincere aren't just better actors than the others? How can we be sure they'll do what they say, if they're elected?

A. I've heard this question over and over again lately, especially from people who are just beginning to get involved. It's a great question. I don't have a great answer. My answer is, we don't know in advance. We use our best judgment to choose our representatives, and then we watch what they do in office. We can fire them in two, four, or six years, if they disappoint us and we think we have someone better. I'd like to think that it's not complete guesswork, though. I've paid so much attention to politics for so long that I believe I can often tell when someone is taking a position without really meaning it, just to push the right buttons with voters. I can listen to what candidates say and how they say it, and detect some warning signals of certain unfortunate kinds of extremism or naivete. And I think I can detect the presence and absence of certain essential qualities and experience. I was able to see quite clearly, for example, that Barack Obama, despite his genuine oratorical skill, had no experience leading much of anything, and to foresee trouble on that basis. (Sadly, former Governor Sarah Palin was the only one on either major party presidential ticket in 2008 who had any significant experience running anything.) But the fact of the matter is, I'm guessing, too. I hope it's an educated guess, but, as I'm rather too fond of saying, my crystal ball was confiscated years ago, due to user incompetence. In the final analysis, we do the very best we can. We learn from our mistakes. And then we go out again and do the very best we can.

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