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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: On Huntsman, Hatch and other big 2012 questions

Published: Sunday, May 29 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Happy Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to, apparently, the summer monsoon season. We hope you're doing more interesting things than thinking about politics, but in case you're cooped up and bored, we thought answering a few questions that no one is really asking might provide a little entertainment.

Will 2012, like 2010, be an anti-incumbent year?

Pignanelli: "Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason." — Mark Twain. If three dynamics of 2010/2011 exist in the fall of 2012 — a sluggish economy, overzealous tea party activists, and scared grumpy voters — incumbents are in for a rough ride.

Webb: A recent Gallup poll found just 28 percent of voters nationwide thought most members of Congress deserved re-election. Overall congressional job approval is only 24 percent. So voters are restless. However, voters usually like their own members better than Congress overall. Voters won't be quite as angry next year as in 2010.

Will anyone run against Ralph Becker?

Webb: Becker's a cinch for re-election. He isn't the most exciting mayor ever, but he's perfect for the post-Rocky era. His liberal base is generally happy, and he's acceptable to moderates. If he is challenged, it will be from the left, not the right. The lack of competition shows the Democrats don't have much bench strength in Utah.

Pignanelli: This is the dumbest question of 2011. Who cares? The mayor is more popular than tofu in Salt Lake City (a high standard). No one can beat him.

Will the Jon Huntsman statement, "I am more spiritual than religious," become the 2011 catchphrase for non-church-going politicos throughout the country?

Pignanelli: Huntsman's articulate dodge of the religious question — and the seeming acceptance by the media and others — brought a collective sigh of relief from closet agnostics in political circles. Readers can expect multiple and various uses of this phrase in responses to inquiries regarding their beliefs (or none thereof).

Webb: Granted, lots of people consider themselves spiritual, but not so interested in organized religion. They find spirituality in nature and meditation. Personally, I need the hard back of a pew to keep me pointed toward God. So I guess I'm more religious than spiritual.

Does Jim Matheson announce for Congress or statewide office?

Webb: Unless the Legislature puts most of Utah County in his new district, he runs for re-election. The numbers statewide just don't work for a Democrat, even the popular Matheson.

Pignanelli: All Matheson wants in redistricting is a moderate Republican district. But if Republicans succumb to greed and try to force Matheson out with a tough district, he is likely to run for governor or U.S. Senate. He is still one of the most popular officials in the state, and clever boundary drawing is not worth the risk.

Is Huntsman really serious about running for president?

Pignanelli: The national media love how he looks and how he talks. Further, if genuine Republican candidates keep dropping out (Govs. Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour), or refuse a run (Gov. Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan), or make stupid statements (Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul) or refuse to apologize for crimes against conservatism (Gov. Mitt Romney), Huntsman's chances will continue to increase. What was once a fun fantasy has morphed into a potential reality.

Webb: He's serious about 2016. He's running a two-cycle strategy and doing it pretty well.

Will the media and legislative leaders reach an accord regarding GRAMA?

Webb: Yes. I'm on the GRAMA working group, and all sorts of sweet things are being whispered in various ears. It's almost spiritual, if not religious.

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