Will Utah Republicans Play Dirty Today in Jim Matheson–Claudia Wright Primary?

Utah Republicans have already ousted one formerly popular incumbent this primary season, and rumors are swirling that they may do it again today—this time, to a Democrat.

Rep. John Matheson, the Blue Dog Dem who has represented Utah's Second Congressional District since 2001, was forced into a runoff with Claudia Wright last month after he alienated liberals by voting against President Obama's health-care bill. Now Republicans are rooting for Wright, who they see as a much more beatable candidate come November. Indeed, open lesbians who support abortion rights, gun control, and myriad other liberal positions don't tend to fare well in the Beehive State.

Which is why Carl D. Wimmer, a conservative state lawmaker, called last month for Republicans to skip the GOP primaries and vote for Wright in the Democratic runoff. Utah's Democratic Party rules allow for any registered voter to participate in its open primaries, regardless of party affiliation.

Of course, as The New York Times reported last week, "so-called tactical voting in open primaries, here and elsewhere, is a perennial possibility that mostly fizzles come Election Day, voting experts say. And some people in both parties are convinced that will happen again here."

Considering the GOP Senate primary between Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater that has been heating up in recent weeks, it seems especially unlikely now that Republicans will forego that election and turn out en masse to nominate a weaker opponent in the House race. (Voters are only allowed to participate in one party's primary.)

But for a while, it looked like a real possibility. An anonymously created Web site called "Conservatives for Claudia" has attracted thousands of page views, and Matheson himself has spent $800,000 this primary season to warn supporters that the party-crashing threat is real. And even though Republican officials (including, eventually, Wimmer) denounced the plan, it has continued to draw attention from the local press, with popular radio-talk-show host Doug Wright devoting significant air time to the idea. (He called it "sleazy.")

Republicans still might get their wish, though. A recent poll places Matheson 19 points ahead of Wright, but midterm primaries in Utah have historically garnered low turnouts, and early voting this year has been exceptionally unimpressive. With a passionate left-wing base, Wright could be poised for an upset in the primary—giving Republicans exactly what they hoped for.