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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: How the Republican presidential race is firming up

Published: Sunday, Sept. 11 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Webb: The contest goes on into next year. Romney is well-funded, can compete in numerous states and is running a much better race than he did four years ago. Perry is a formidable candidate not likely to flame out, but his staying power and strength in a variety of states has yet to be tested. Republican voters will also have to decide if Perry, the conservative firebrand, can win a general election against President Obama.

Should local Democrats be worried if Romney leads the GOP ticket in Utah? Or if Perry wins the nomination, will there be a backlash against right-wing Republicans for perceived anti-Mormon bias?

Webb: Romney greatly strengthens the Republican ticket in Utah. He increases turnout, attracts support of independents and helps Republicans up and down the ballot. Perry would still handily win Utah, but wouldn't provide a big boost for the ticket. The neighborhood dogcatcher beats Obama in Utah.

Pignanelli: Utah suffers from a low voter turnout. But if Romney is on top of 2012 ballot, wayward Republican voters will be falling from the trees for the chance to vote for their hero — and it will be a straight party ticket. Thus, voter turnout jumps, but Democrats suffer a huge hit. Conversely, the evangelical GOP could play the religion card at Republican primaries and caucuses to deny Romney the nomination (40 percent of Republican delegates are fundamentalist Christians). Utah Democrats will have a great PR tool to persuade LDS Republicans to cross over on Election Day.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com

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