Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What to expect and learn from the primary elections

Published: Sunday, June 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Mike Winder, left, shakes hands with Mark Crockett after a recent GOP primary debate in the county mayor's race.

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Tuesday's primary election, in some races, is as important as the general election. Scores will be settled, bragging rights inflated and deflated, allegations mooted and some policy decisions will be impacted. In some cases, the primary election is the real election, because the winner will coast to easy victory in November.

We offer a preview of what to expect and learn from the key races:

The presidential primary. What will be Mitt Romney's percentage, and will voter turnout break records?

Pignanelli: "Despite what the pundits want us to think, contested primaries aren't civil war, they are democracy at work, and that's beautiful." — Sarah Palin

For the mental health of all Americans, Utah Republicans must support Romney in huge numbers on Tuesday. If the turnout and results are anything less than the 90 percent he received in 2008, national media will be overly obsessed on Romney's declining popularity with his natural base (at least until the next big story comes along). We cannot give Glenn Beck another excuse to cry, so we encourage everyone but the handful of Ron Paul supporters to vote.

Webb: The intrigue and suspense is long gone from the Republican presidential primary. But the Ron Paul groupies will ever be with us, so they will be a factor, especially in a low-turnout primary. Romney will win above 80 percent. Despite a number of interesting races, turnout will be under 25 percent. Good for a primary during the distractions of summer, but nothing to be proud of.

U.S. Senate. Who wins between Orrin Hatch and Dan Liljenquist, and what will it mean for this election season?

Webb: 2012 is not 2010, so Hatch wins rather handily. We're not seeing the angry, anti-incumbent uprising that occurred in 2010. Hatch is getting old and isn't quite as sharp as he once was, but his seniority and clout in the U.S. Senate are undeniable. He is in a position to have a powerful voice in the country's tough problems, including entitlement programs and the burgeoning debt. Republican voters aren't quite ready to turn the old war horse out to pasture. A Hatch win means that it's safe, once again, to be a mainstream Republican in Utah.

Pignanelli: The polls indicate that Hatch will prevail by a large number. Many right-wingers were real nasty to Utah's senior senator throughout this election. I plan on breaking out the popcorn on Tuesday evening and watch the tea party get their comeuppance, as they will be damaged goods for at least the short term.

Attorney General. This battle between Sean Reyes and John Swallow has been hard-hitting. Who prevails and why?

Pignanelli: Whether it's the exposure of tape recorded conversations with one candidate, the odd involvement by Democratic super PACs and the arm wrestling between law firms, this has been one of the most bizarre primary contests in recent history. Reyes may have grabbed some last-minute attention, but Swallow has dominated the early voting and should succeed.

Webb: This will be close. Swallow is viewed as a political insider, close to his friends in the Legislature; Reyes as more independent, professional and the better attorney. Swallow has superior name ID because of his previous congressional and legislative campaigns. Both have strong endorsements. Swallow wins, but Reyes has a bright political future.

Auditor. Does this contest between incumbent Auston Johnson and challenger John Dougall really matter?

Webb: The auditor should be appointed by the governor, not elected. But it matters. Some state leaders worry that Dougall, a hard-charging state legislator, would make the office more activist and political, and use it to promote conservative causes. Johnson is essentially non-political, highly professional and has the advantage of incumbency. But the "Frugal Dougall" advertising campaign has been clever and effective. I'm guessing a narrow upset by Dougall.

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