The GOP presidential debate scheduled for Monday in Utah was canceled after Donald Trump announced that he would not participate. As Utah Republicans head into caucuses on Tuesday, the GOP frontrunner is not expected to do as well here as he has elsewhere in the country.
Political blogger Holly Richardson is a former member of the Utah House and a current state Senate candidate. She’s a Republican and she says she will vote for anybody but Trump.
“So, I’m a woman, I’m a Mormon, I’m a mom of kids with disabilities, and I’m a mom of kids with different ethnic backgrounds, including a daughter who is Hispanic,” Richardson says. “So everything about Trump is something that sets me on edge.” And Richardson says she’s not the only one who feels this way in Utah.
“I think his attacks on religious freedom have been concerning to people in this state - a heavily religious state - and he’s saying there are some religions that are better than others, and some people we want to ban just based on their religion,” she says. “I think another thing is, he’s just mean, and I hope in Utah that we’re better than that.”
A poll conducted last month by Dan Jones and Associates showed Trump had about 18 percent support among Utah Republicans, which put him in 3rd place. Back in January, Congressman Chris Stewart was speaking to members of the Utah House, when a representative asked if he would support the GOP nominee regardless of who it is. Stewart, who supported Marco Rubio at that time, hedged a bit, but made clear how he feels about Trump.
“Well, that’s a tough question isn’t it, because I honestly have some issues with some candidates, and I’m not sure that they reflect the values of the GOP, nor the values of Utah very well,” Stewart said.
Senate Majority leader Ralph Okerlund disagrees. Okerlund, who represents a rural district in Southern Utah, met with Donald Trump’s son when he came to speak at the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City last month.
“After talking to Donald Junior, I think the values that he and his family have are very similar to what we have out here,” Okerlund says. He’s supporting Trump because he thinks he will shake things up in Washington. “His comments have been, it’s time that the states got back the power to make their own determinations as to what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to govern themselves. I think that’s going to include everything from the EPA to the Office of Education and a number of other of the federal offices.”
In any case, having Trump in the race seems to have mobilized Utah Republicans.
Scott Miller is a mechanic at an auto-dealer in Sandy. He’s also the Vice Chair of the Republican Party for Salt Lake County. On a lunchbreak at a nearby diner, he says he’s seeing an upswell of grassroots political activism. Miller is responsible for training all the precinct chairs in the county for caucus night.
“To have 750 of my 840 precinct chairs trained, or caucus hosts trained, that’s a phenomenal number,” Miller says. He’s expecting turnout for caucus on Tuesday might be the biggest he’s ever been. He says Utah Republicans are waking up and realizing they have to fight for what they believe in. He says the majority he’s talked to are opposed to Trump, and they don’t believe he will bring the smaller government they desire.
“I think between Hillary and Sanders and Trump, the three of them I think has fully engaged people to the precipice of which we are standing. I mean we are truly on the edge in this country.” Miller says, there’s something here that sets Utah apart. “I think the rest of the country is very angry. And here in Utah, I just don’t think we’re angry. We’re more of a compassionate and understanding kind of people, and a giving people. I think Trump is riding on a wave of anger.”
If Trump gets at least half the votes in Utah, then all of the state’s 40 Republican delegates will go to him, but that seems unlikely. Miller wouldn’t say who he was voting for, but clearly not Trump. As for Holly Richardson, she’s voting for Ted Cruz on Tuesday. Looking ahead to the general election, though, Richardson is afraid she will likely face a tough choice. If Trump is the party nominee, Richardson says, she will not vote for him.
“I will not vote for that man,” she says. “So if he’s the nominee and there’s not a viable third party candidate for some reason, I’ll write in somebody’s name, but I will not vote for Donald Trump.”