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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended June 04, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 05Jun00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Shift in Utah Politics Could Leave LDS 'Moderate' Republicans Vulnerable
Chicago Tribune 4Jun00 D2
By Judith Graham: Tribune Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- An article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune explores a shift in the strategy of the right wing of the Utah Republican Party, and the effect that it may have on more moderate Republicans, all of whom are members of the LDS Church. The shift became clear at this year's state Republican Convention, when Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the most powerful figures in Washington, was booed and Gov. Mike Leavitt, chairman of the National Governors Association was called a liberal.

Normally political conventions in Utah are polite, even if behind the scenes debates make who will be chosen to represent the party uncertain. However, this year 'ultra-conservatives' decided to take a strident approach to making their views heard and getting their policies into the party platform. Nationally, conservatives have felt left out of the party, as it has shifted toward the center to gain votes, according to John Green, director of the Bliss institute at the University of Akron in Ohio and an expert on right-wing politics. "They feel very strongly that it's conservativism that has brought the Republican Party its successes, but now they're not being listened to."

The strident approach that the Utah conservatives are taking is just one of the approaches being used nationally. Other approaches include leaving the party to join Pat Buchannan or others and taking a pragmatic approach and working with more moderate republicans.

Senator Hatch, who is generally considered very conservative elsewhere, has angered conservatives for what they consider 'lapses' in his record. These include his compromising on gun control in the juvenile justice bill and his refusal to sign a pledge to veto any judicial candidate that isn't anti-abortion. "Even though I'm pro-life, I can't commit to something like that. It's one issue that's very important to me, but there are thousands of other issues that are important too and that I have to consider," the senator said.

Leavitt was somewhat embarrassed at the convention, when conservatives forced a primary run-off election with ad executive and political unknown Glen Davis, who captured 46% of the delegate votes at the convention. Davis was backed by conservatives who packed the convention, determined not to let the more moderate Republican's prevail at the convention.

His support included the Utah Eagle Forum, led by LDS Church member Gayle Ruzicka, widely considered one of the most powerful figures in Utah politics for her ability to mobilize thousands of Forum members within hours through its much-feared phone tree, and more recently, its Internet-based organizing. "The caucuses were bigger than ever, and we made sure we were there," said Ruzicka. "Mike Leavitt has been running the state like a dictator, and Orrin Hatch has lost touch. We gave them a real wake-up call."

But what remains unclear is what affect these moves will have in the general election in November. In spite of the fact that Republicans have captured a higher percentage of the vote than in any other state, just 41 percent of the state is Republican, and the party leans heavily on the 36 percent of voters that are registered as independent. If these voters are more moderate than the conservatives, their actions could shift the vote enough to give Democrats an opening.

On the other hand, the increasing shows of strength of the conservatives in Utah put more moderate LDS Republicans at risk of loosing their seats in the Republican primaries.


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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information