The primary election is history, but it's not too late to examine the carnage.
Did any overarching trends emerge in the primary election, or did different factors in each race account for the results?
Pignanelli: "Politics is like a race horse. A good jockey must know how to fall with the least possible damage." — Edouard Herriot. Tuesday's election was a barometer of political tradewinds. Utah's tea party movement suffered mortal wounds and is on life support. They lost candidates from the top of the ballot to the bottom. (The 78 year-old Orrin Hatch, who is in better physical shape than most tea partiers, crushed them.) Ultra-conservatives will always have a role in Utah politics, but they must find another vehicle for expression.
Super PACs are a force in federal — and now state — elections. Also, these shrouded entities will play in any contest, regardless of party affiliation (i.e. a Democrat super PAC attacked Republican John Swallow in the GOP primary)
The percentage of Utahns voting before Election Day continues to increase. This dramatically changed the strategy of how candidates communicate with the electorate and diminished any impact of last-minute surprises. Successful candidates target their efforts on these early voters.
The anti-incumbency fervor has diminished — somewhat. Officeholders that paid attention to constituents can survive, those unable to demonstrate value lost.
Social media remains a small portion of a campaign's activities, but the impact is growing. John Dougall's successful efforts against Austin Johnson were centered on the Internet. This allows for greater creativity and message development — which Dougall excelled beyond any candidate this election.
Webb: This has not been a transformative election like 2010. It's a more normal election year, which is good news for mainstream conservative candidates, with Hatch being the prime example. But Utah Republicans are still very conservative. The most conservative candidates won the attorney general and Salt Lake County mayoral races (assuming Mark Crockett's win holds up), but other factors specific to those races also had a bearing.
Meanwhile, openly gay Republican candidate Melvin Nimer won 45 percent of the vote in the Salt Lake County Council primary. That's pretty remarkable in my mind. Nimer was a solid candidate who ran a good race and should be proud of his efforts, even though he didn't win.
What are lessons learned in the 2012 primary?
Pignanelli: Hatch's campaign demonstrated the best response to an opposing super PAC is to discredit it early. They decimated the credibility of FreedomWorks, thereby eliminating any assistance for Dan Liljenquist. The success of Swallow (attorney general) and Dougall (state auditor) revealed that voters do not care about the minutia of qualifications and experience details. The victors instead touched the hearts of citizens by appealing to issues they understood: Swallow committed to defend Utah's public lands policy and attack Obamacare; Dougall promised more extensive audits to promote government efficiency. Counter arguments as to the college degrees and knowledge in narrow elements were boring and pointless.
Webb: I hope one lesson learned is that losing one race doesn't have to be the end of a political career. Some of the state's and nation's best political leaders lost before they won. Liljenquist can still have a bright political future if he stays involved and seeks the right position. He can also avoid the tea party ideological straitjacket. Sean Reyes lost to a guy who had run several times before and enjoyed much better name ID and visibility in the Republican Party. Reyes can win in the future. Mike Winder (if he ends up losing) is still mayor of West Valley City and can make a comeback.3 comments on this story
The primary election featured a fair amount of negative advertising in some of the races. What do the results say about negative advertising in Utah?
Pignanelli: I laughed out loud when several high-level GOP activists ranted against negative commercials sponsored by super PACs. The chickens have come home to roost. For two years, national Republicans pooh-poohed the concerns many expressed about these shadowy organizations. Negative advertising — especially by out-of-state super PACs — is now a common feature of Utah elections. The only redeeming aspect is Utahns will allow questions of a candidate's judgment but continue to reject nasty personal attacks on character.
Webb: Any voter who sees a political ad using scary music, dark shadows, sinister voices and grainy images ought to quickly change the channel. Criticizing real positions and actual voting records is fair game if done without the drama. But the unfortunate reality is that with today's technology, any candidate in any race is totally vulnerable to accusations that badly distort positions and voting records. The bottom-feeding political consultants and candidates who practice these dark arts ought to be embarrassed. All candidates have to be ready for these trashy campaigns and prepare enough firepower to counter the distortions. It's the Wild West out there, and it's not going to get any better.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: email@example.com.