Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Categorizing Utah's political world with some appropriate labels

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Astute political observers (a generous description for us hacks) love to use labels. So, in taking an early look at who's running for what in 2012, we've categorized the contenders, races and other factors under appropriate labels.

The Redistricting Decision. With the exception of Election Day, 2012, the special redistricting session, starting Oct. 3, in just a few weeks, is the most important event in the upcoming election cycle. Almost every race and contest will be impacted by the decisions made in the session. The boundary lines will help Rep. Jim Matheson decide whether to stay in the House, run for the U.S. Senate or challenge Gov. Gary Herbert. Redistricting will also dramatically impact state legislative races.

Lily. Davis County GOP State Sen. Dan Liljenquist ("Lily" to his friends and colleagues) is seriously considering running against Sen. Orrin Hatch. After Rep. Jason Chaffetz's decisions to stay in the House, Lily is receiving tremendous pressure from national and local conservative organizations to get in the race. Respected by political leaders from both parties for his fair-minded, easy-going, but intelligent demeanor, Liljenquist is a rising star. Hatch has built a formidable reelection machine in anticipation of a stiff challenge from Chaffetz or others. Lily, however, could be a threat because he will have tea party support, but also backing from more moderate Republicans who think Hatch has been in Washington too long and it's time for a change. It's a difficult decision for Lily because he has a large and young family, and he will need to decide soon.

That Car Guy. The apparent leader of the tea party movement in Utah, David Kirkham, who runs Kirkham Motorsports, is on the short list as a possible Hatch challenger, but he's also considering a run against Herbert. Kirkham has a natural constituency among tea party Republican delegates. His candidacy could galvanize the conservative movement and motivate passionate tea party activists to attend precinct caucuses next March. This could impact every Republican race.

The Lawyer Wars. Your columnists join all Utahns in expressing our sincere appreciation and relief that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has fully recovered from his bout with cancer. Assuming Shurtleff does not seek reelection, the AG race is open for the first time since 2000. Shurtleff's deputy, former lawmaker and congressional candidate John Swallow, is building a campaign team, and will enjoy an important endorsement — from his boss. Many delegates already know Swallow, an advantage in the convention battle. However, many Republican attorneys are promoting Sean Reyes, a capable and prominent big-firm attorney who has been organizing for some time. State Sen. John Valentine, well-respected in political and legal circles, appears unlikely to seek the post.

Packing Heat. New congressional district boundaries are yet unknown, so it's hard to place prospective candidates in districts, but state lawmaker and gun rights defender Carl Wimmer is ahead of the GOP newcomer pack in capturing a GOP congressional nomination, probably in the new 4th District. He gained an organizational and emotional head start by founding a precursor to the tea party, the Patrick Henry Caucus. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love is also preparing for a race.

Those Immigration Activists. State Rep. Stephen Sandstrom and Rep. Chris Herrod received tremendous publicity in the immigration wars. Thus, they are being touted by tea party and anti-immigration activists as potential challengers to Hatch, Herbert or as congressional candidates, depending on how the lines are drawn.

We Like Matheson, But … Despite solid approval ratings, Matheson had a tough reelection last year. For 2012, with expected Democratic weakness in Utah and nationally (witness the recent GOP congressional win in New York), Republicans are lining up to challenge him. Former House Speaker David Clark would be a formidable opponent and is making all the right moves. Others either in or considering the race include 2010 GOP nominee Morgan Philpot (who could also challenge Hatch), Cherilyn Eager, John Willoughby and Chuck Williams.

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