Donald Trump vs. Nikki Haley in Utah Republican caucus

Utah Republicans and Democrats get their turn picking a presidential nominee as part of “Super Tuesday.”

Hundreds of delegates are at stake across 15 states on Tuesday. Utah Republicans will cast their ballots at neighborhood caucus meetings while Democrats head to the polls for a more traditional primary election.

The Utah GOP opted out of the state-run presidential primary election and will instead select their 40 national delegates in a presidential preference poll in conjunction with the party caucus meetings. Only registered Republicans can participate. Registration begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday, with the caucus starting at 7 p.m.

Trump vs. Haley

While Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are the only candidates left in the race, there will be six names on Tuesday’s ballot. The campaigns for Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Asa Hutchinson and Ryan Binkley have suspended their campaigns but will still be eligible to receive votes.

Much of the political drama has been drained from Tuesday’s caucus as Trump has dominated almost every vote this primary season. Despite that, Utah GOP Chairman Rob Axson is anticipating a good turnout.

“It’s hard to tell, but I suspect we’ll have a healthy turnout,” Axson said Monday. “The presidential candidates have been contacting their supporters to vote for them at the caucus meetings. Also, the campaigns in prominent races like U.S. Senate and governor have been working to get their supporters to show up.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Donald Trump is surrounded by Utah elected officials at the Utah Capitol on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, as he signs a presidential proclamation to shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

Axson said the party spent $100,000 on promotion for the caucus meetings. In the past, that total was closer to $15,000 or $20,000. The party is urging attendees to pre-register on their website, which they hope will make the presidential voting smoother.

There are 40 Republican delegates up for grabs Tuesday night. The Utah GOP employs a “winner take most” model. If a candidate wins a majority of the vote, they get all of the delegates. If there is no majority, delegates to the Republican National Convention are allocated proportionally to candidates who receive 15% or more.

Who fills those delegate positions will be determined at Utah’s Republican State Convention on April 27. Three spots go to party leaders — Chairman Rob Axson and the two National Committee members — and delegates will elect the remaining 37.

All GOP delegates are pledged to a specific candidate on the first ballot but can vote for someone else on subsequent ballots.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nikki Haley gives a speech during a rally at The Noorda Center for the Performing Arts at Utah Valley University in Orem, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

In 2016, all of Utah’s GOP delegates were committed to Ted Cruz. At the convention, Sen. Mike Lee led a small group of “never-Trump” delegates who tried to change the rules to allow committed delegates to vote for anyone they choose. That effort led to a shouting match on the convention floor but ultimately failed.

Utah Democrats hold presidential primary

Utah Democrats are holding a traditional primary to determine how their 34 delegates are allocated. Ballots were mailed out to voters who requested one last month or can vote in person at locations managed by individual county clerks.

Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Thom DeSirant says, much like their Republican counterparts, the Democratic race isn’t much in doubt. Joe Biden, the incumbent, is expected to win handily, which will likely impact turnout.

“It’s hard to tell, especially when it’s not a terribly competitive race. Most Americans know Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party nominee,” DeSirant says.

Utah Democratic will award 30 delegates on Tuesday night. Five candidates are on the ballot: incumbent Joe Biden, Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson, Gabriel Comejo and Frank Lozada. To win delegates, candidates must secure at least 15% in the primary. In 2020, Biden, Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren split the delegates from Utah.

Utah Democrat’s four remaining delegates are cast by “party leaders and elected officials,” or PLEOs. This year, the Democratic Party chair, vice chair and two national committee members will vote.

(Kenny Holston | The New York Times) President Joe Biden arrives to board Air Force One at Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023.

Delegates at the Democratic State Convention on April 26 and 27 will pick the other 30 delegates to the national convention in Chicago. Twenty-four of those delegates are divided among Utah’s four congressional districts, while the other six are elected statewide.

The Legislature did officially fund the statewide Democratic primary until the second-to-last day of the 2024 session, putting $1 million toward the effort.

To caucus or primary?

In 2016, Republicans decided to hold a presidential caucus instead of a primary. Democrats were forced to do the same when the Legislature decided against funding an election for just one party. Higher than anticipated turnout led to attendees from both parties braving bad weather while standing outside for hours. Several locations ran out of ballots. Many voters gave up and went home.

Because of the chaos, Utah lawmakers passed a bill in 2019 mandating the state’s presidential primary be held on “Super Tuesday,” but parties had the option of holding a caucus instead. The Utah GOP took the caucus option, collecting $50,000 entrance fees from candidates hoping to be on the ballot.

It’s not just presidential politics that will come to the fore on Tuesday. Republicans and Democrats will also elect thousands of state and county-level delegates who will be key in deciding which candidates appear on Utah’s June primary election ballot. Some candidates have opted to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot outside of the convention, but others left their fate squarely in the hands of delegates.

Five Republicans are running for the party nomination in the governor’s race. Spencer Cox, Phil Lyman, Scott Robbins and Sylvia Miera Fisk are attempting to petition their way onto the ballot. If they can collect 28,000 signatures, they cannot be eliminated at the April convention. And unless Carson Jorgensen gets at least 40% of the convention vote, his campaign will end. If signature-gathering candidates fall short of gathering signatures, they must get at least 40% at convention to move on.

In the U.S. Senate race, seven of the 11 Republicans are opting for signature gathering, while the remaining five plan to appeal to delegates.

Republican delegates taught former state Rep. Steve Handy a hard lesson in 2022. Handy, a moderate Republican, opted against gathering signatures for his reelection campaign and paid dearly for that decision when the more right-wing delegates ousted him in favor of Trevor Lee, who only needed 53 votes from delegates to win the nomination. Handy launched a write-in campaign against Lee, but was unsuccessful.

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