The Iowa state caucus has become the starting gun for the presidential nomination race.
But when it comes to local elections, Tooele County Republicans have the Lincoln Day Dinner to indicate potential front runners.
Held one week before the filing period opens for the 2014 election year, the 230 people that attended Saturday’s Tooele County Republican Party Annual Lincoln Day Dinner participated in a straw poll to see which candidates may have an early edge over their fellow Republican competitors.
Out of five Republicans that have declared their intent to run for one of two county commission seats, Dean Johnson came in first place with 65 votes.
Jeff McNeill placed second with 35 votes, incumbent Commissioner Bruce Clegg came in third with 31 votes, Myron Bateman claimed fourth with 29 votes, and Danny Marz placed fifth with 12 votes.
However, the straw poll used instant run-off voting during which voters ranked all candidates in order of preference instead of a simple “X” for one candidate.
The IRV process ranked Johnson first place, McNeill in second place, Bateman in third place, Clegg in fourth place and Marz in fifth place.
With three known Republican candidates for Tooele County Sheriff, Duke North made a strong first place showing with 69 straw votes. Paul Wimmer was second with 47 votes and Brad Patch was in third place with 45 votes.
Tooele County Lincoln Day Dinner attendees favored retaining Marilyn Gillette as county clerk, whose office has been combined by the county commission with the county auditor to form the clerk/auditor office in 2015.
Gillette garnered 95 votes in the straw poll to Toby Lee’s 67 votes for clerk/auditor. Mike Jensen, the incumbent county auditor, has decided to run for county treasurer instead of challenging Gillette for the combined clerk/auditor position.
Vicki Griffith was a local favorite for Senate District 12, which includes parts of Salt Lake County. Griffith pulled down 86 votes to incumbent Sen. Daniel Thatcher’s 81 votes.
Jeremy Walker, incumbent county treasurer, out-polled his challenger, current County Auditor Mike Jensen. Walker received 102 votes to Jensen’s 55.
Assessor Wendy Shubert, Attorney Doug Hogan, Recorder/Surveyor Jerry Houghton, Sen. Pete Knudson, and Representatives Doug Sagers and Merrill Nelson all appeared unopposed on the straw poll ballot.
Republican caucus meetings will be held on March 20. At those meetings delegates to county and state conventions will decide the real fate of Republican candidates.
The theme for the Lincoln Dinner at Tooele High School was “Dinner of Heroes,” and Erik Gumbrecht, Tooele County Republican Party chairman, opened the dinner with remarks about the need for local heroes.
“As long as Americans fail to focus on local efforts, there is no one that can be elected that can resolve everything,” he said. “America needs grassroots heroes.”
Congressman Chris Stewart was the keynote speaker. Stewart stressed the values of courage and sacrifice that can be learned by the example of heroes.
He introduced his guest of honor, local Utah hero, Master Sergeant Gordon Ewell of Emery County. Ewell survived six improvised explosive device explosions in Iraq.
Ewell suffered brain damage, impaired vision and hearing, a broken neck, and burned lungs.
“He didn’t ask to go home after the first time. He didn’t go after the second time,” Stewart said. “He stayed with his brothers in battle.”
Gov. Gary Herbert told the Lincoln dinner audience that the state and nation needs heroes, but to be careful about who we select as heroes.
“We have too much adulation of rock stars and athletes and forget about the importance of the principles and values taught by who we want to emulate,” he said.
Sean Reyes, Utah Attorney General, spoke about his accomplishments since his appointment as attorney general on Dec. 13, 2013.
The audience also heard Jon McCartney, pastor of Tooele First Baptist Church, speak about becoming a hero through community service.
Executive Board Chairwoman Alison McCoy for the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce also spoke about the importance of supporting local businesses.
Lincoln Day Dinners are a traditional fundraiser for the Republican Party. Normally held in February, the dinners commemorate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln who is considered to be the founder of the Republican Party.