Amid calls for Democrats and unaffiliated voters to register as Republicans ahead of Utah’s June 30 primary election, GOP registration has soared.
The Republican primary is open only to voters registered with the party, and this year is a very influential election. There’s an open seat for governor for the first time since 2004, a competitive attorney general’s race and the first open seat for the 1st Congressional District since 2002.
In the past eight weeks, more than 73,000 people have registered with the GOP. That’s a 10% increase and much larger than increases during the same time period before primaries in 2018 and 2017.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said that’s because of the governor’s race.
“On the Republican side, we have a hotly contested race,” Burbank said. “So that's attracted a lot of attention … And then along with that, of course, we have had a number of high profile appeals to people to say if you want to participate in the governor's election, you should do it in the Republican primary.”
Burbank said it’s hard to tell how much these new Republicans will influence the race, but if they do have an impact, it’s likely to help former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.
“My guess is that they're more likely to pick one of the two candidates who are seen as broadly being more moderate,” he said, referring to Huntsman and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “The advantage with Jon Huntsman is because he was governor before, he's well-known.”
But, he warned it’s difficult to tell because there’s not good data on the political ideologies of these crossover voters.
The primary will be conducted entirely by mail, except in San Juan County. The voter registration deadline has passed, and the state Elections Director said he doesn’t expect registration numbers to change before election day.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson