Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: 2012 is a blank slate, but we see potential chalk lines

Published: Sunday, April 3 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Pignanelli and Webb: The 2012 general election seems a long way off, but the first big contest in the 2012 cycle, neighborhood party caucuses, is less than a year from now. Hopefuls are already working the grass roots, trying to win support of prospective delegates.

So it's time to start speculating about who will run. Here's an early look at possible contenders.

The U.S. Senate race, featuring Sen. Orrin Hatch seeking re-election, could be a monumental battle, or it could be a rather quiet affair if Hatch's large war chest and early grassroots organizing efforts scare off competition.

National GOP leadership wants Rep. Jason Chaffetz to remain in Congress, but he has support among many conservative activists to run against Hatch. He's even considered a run for governor. Chaffetz is young and ambitious, and plenty of opportunities lie ahead.

Another possible Senate contender is the bright and ambitious state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, known for helping resolve Utah's public pension problems and taking on Medicaid reform. He could also consider the gubernatorial race.

Gov. Gary Herbert is obviously the favorite in the gubernatorial race, especially after a strong showing last year (even winning Salt Lake County) in the face of blistering attacks. He views himself as a strong conservative and enjoys solid support among business leaders and mainstream Republicans.

But the immigration and GRAMA controversies could encourage a challenge from the right. state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, champion of hard-line immigration policy, could enter the gubernatorial race. Overstock CEO Jonathon Johnson is also being mentioned (by the great mentioners).

Who steps up in congressional races will be determined, in part, by redistricting. In the 1st District, the inscrutable Congressman Rob Bishop can cruise to re-election, but some supporters are urging him to look at the governor's race. Bishop has dramatically bolstered his PR machine and visibility in recent years.

In the 2nd District, Congressman Jim Matheson will likely wait to see what his new district looks like before choosing his race: House, Senate or governor. Matheson is popular, but in a presidential year, a statewide race for a Democrat would be tough. On the Republican side, Morgan Philpot made a strong showing against Matheson in 2010, and is gearing up for another race.

Third District dynamics will depend on what Chaffetz does. If he goes for another office, a large field will seek to replace him.

The gregarious, savvy, controversial lawmaker Carl Wimmer, a darling of the tea party and founder of the Patrick Henry Caucus, is currently the leading GOP contender for the new 4th Congressional District. He will have plenty of competition. Former House Speaker David Clark remains on the short list for Congress.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said he will not seek re-election, but if his health stabilizes, he will remain as a possibility for higher office. Deputy Attorney General John Swallow (a former legislator and congressional candidate) will seek to replace Shurtleff. Others who may get in the race are former Senate President John Valentine and attorney Sean Reyes. Democrat state Rep. Patrice Arent could also jump in.

With incumbent Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon departing next year, this open seat is generating great interest. Hopefuls include ambitious West Valley Mayor Mike Winder and County Council member Richard Snelgrove, a longtime Republican activist whose family name conjures up sweet thoughts.

On the Democratic side, veteran political insider and Salt Lake County Council member Jim Bradley is considering a mayoral run, along with Deputy County Mayor Nicole Adams Dunn and businessman Sam Granato, who ran for the U.S. Senate last year.

Plenty of other prominent names are surfacing for a variety of offices. Among them are:

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