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Democrats, Unaffiliated Voters Register As Republicans Ahead Of Primary

Republican gubernatorial candidates on face-off at a debate on June 1.
Utah Debate Commission



It’s been 35 years since a Democrat was governor of Utah. So, the winner of next Tuesday’s Republican primary will likely be the state’s next governor. 

Each year there’s a small number of unaffiliated and Democratic voters who register as Republicans for the primary.


“But this is a big number this year, more than we’ve seen in the past. And certainly enough to influence this primary,” said Jason Perry, director of theHinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.


The State’s Election Office reports there are more than 70,000 new registered Republicans this year, the majority of which are unaffiliated voters. 

“It would be a mistake for people to think that this was, for example, Democrats just trying to take down who they think the strongest opponent is. That is not the case in Utah for this particular primary,” said Perry. 


Utahns want to have a say in who will lead the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Perry. 


“This really is about the heart and soul of the Utah Republican party in the state. Because these candidates are so varied,” he said. 

Derek Brown, chair of Utah’s state Republican Party, said that it’s not a good sign for the Democrats that their members are opting to vote in the Republican primary.

“It’s sort of a subtle indictment of that party, in the sense that they’re acknowledging that whatever that party does long-term here in the state isn’t going to make an impact for the November election,” said Brown. 


Jeff Merchant, the state’s Democratic Party chair sees it differently.


“I think that what it is a recognition that the Republican party is fractured between what I would call right-wing extremists and more moderates,” said Merchant. “Unaffiliated and Democratic voters wanna make sure that the state is run in an appropriate way.”


Those who change parties to vote in the primary typically switch back after the election, said state officials. But, Brown remains optimistic that the GOP will keep some of its new members.