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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Time to speculate on elections, immigration, etc.

Published: Sunday, May 8 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Welcome to spring, finally. The warm weather brings rising waters, to go along with a flood of political speculation.

In 2010, Republicans started bouncing back in Salt Lake County. Are the Republicans poised to win the Salt Lake County mayorship in 2012?

Pignanelli: "Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too." — Richard M. Nixon. Although 18 months away, this race is grabbing the attention of politicos — for various reasons: there are no announced challengers in the high-profile races (U.S. Senate/governor/congress) and the election for Salt Lake City Mayor is a snooze (Ralph Becker is as popular as a Navy SEAL Commando). In this vacuum, the Republican contenders are generating the public awareness. West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder is already campaigning for the office. But others are seriously considering the GOP nomination, including Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove and former Councilman Mark Crockett.

Democrats are also fielding a strong bench for the position. Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero is already soliciting county delegates, to establish a beachhead at the convention. County Councilman Jim Bradley enjoys name identification and a deep reputation for ethical thoughtfulness. Deputy Mayor Nicole Adams Dunn has access to the formidable Corroon machine, along with the potential endorsement from her boss. County Democrats enjoy the advantage that the outgoing incumbent, Peter Corroon, is popular. Also, in general, county voters are moderate and independent; neither party can claim it as a bastion. Therefore, between the convention and the general election, Republicans are in for a long fight.

Webb: One of the most remarkable results of the 2010 gubernatorial election was that Gov. Gary Herbert actually defeated the popular Mayor Corroon in Salt Lake County. Remember that in the gubernatorial election of 2004, former Gov. Jon Huntsman lost to Democrat Scott Matheson by 20,000 votes in the county. So Republicans have made significant progress. If Republicans nominate a solid mayoral candidate, and if Utahns turn out big for the GOP presidential nominee against President Obama, Democrats will have a hard time hanging on to the mayorship.

But Salt Lake County remains a swing county, and if Republicans nominate a far-right ideologue, they will lose. If Democrats nominate a far-left ideologue, they will lose. Both parties will need to nominate mainstream, problem-solving candidates.

The battle over HB116, the immigration bill providing guest worker status, has exposed deep fissures within the Republican Party. How will it all play out in the caucuses, conventions and elections of 2012?

Webb: If Republicans act really stupidly, they could wake up to this nightmare in 2012: GOP delegates and party caucus attendees turn HB116 into a "litmus test," and on that issue alone they defeat a number of mainstream conservative Republicans, and nominate "purist" far-right ideologues. Democrats then label these candidates as extremists, scare general election voters, and win a bunch of races. That could easily happen in some legislative swing districts. Surveys have consistently shown that Utah voters support HB116 and the Legislature's comprehensive approach to immigration reform. If grassroots conservative activists make HB116 the measure of purity, and reject anyone who supports it, they can do long-term damage to the party.

Pignanelli: Political observers fear the 2012 delegate and convention process will morph into a sewer of horrid anti-immigrant rhetoric — that could overwhelm the more enlightened incumbent Republicans. Because Utah's precinct caucuses will be among the first trendsetting political exercises in the country, all the bilge will get national attention. Average Utahns, who eschew conventions but participate in primary and general elections, are compassionate and will not tolerate all the nastiness. We can only hope they can influence the GOP deliberations.

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