Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: How will the presidential race affect Utah campaigns?

Published: Sunday, Oct. 21 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Oct. 5, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a couple of children during a rally in Abingdon, Va.

Associated Press

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Combatants in 2012 races have rounded the last bend and are sprinting toward the finish line. Here are some questions enquiring minds want answered.

Even Republicans in local races are tying themselves to Mitt Romney and are asking Democratic opponents if they will vote for Barack Obama. How big does the presidential contest loom in Utah campaigns?

Pignanelli: "We all like to hear a man speak out on his convictions and principles. But when you're running on a ticket, you're running with a team." — Richard J. Daley. Presidential politics is not an issue in Utah's elections this year; it is THE ONLY ISSUE! Local Republicans finally awoke from their post-primary nap to begin torturing feisty Democrats who were campaigning the past six months. The 2012 path to victory for Utah's GOP is easy. First snuggle up to Mitt (78 percent approval rating). Second, paint your opponent as an Obama Democrat (approval rating 22 percent). Third, ask the Democrat in public his/her preference for president and enjoy the squirming.

Forcing Democrats to announce their presidential preference is an especially brutal but effective tool. The pride many Utahns maintain for Romney ?— bolstered by his strong debate performances — is beyond party preference and very personal to voters. Further, most Democratic candidates need a chunk of Republican votes. If a Democrat espouses support of Obama from party fealty, the ability to persuade Republicans to break a similar loyalty becomes difficult. The truly brave will just defend Obama and hope for the best. Granted, this dynamic does not lead to robust policy discussions, but Republicans have opted for the strategy "If you got it, flaunt it."

Webb: Republicans in congressional races, especially, benefit with Romney at the top of the ticket. GOP congressional candidates can argue that Romney needs them to maintain GOP control of the House, or to win control of the Senate, so he can govern effectively.

Romney isn't as important in local races, although Republicans are dumping Obama baggage on opponents by asking if they will vote for Obama for president. It's a very tough environment for Democrats, especially those in Republican-leaning jurisdictions where moderate Democrats have historically been able to win.

Many Democratic candidates are making an issue of one-party rule in Utah. Would Utah be better served with more political balance (i.e., more Democrats in office)?

Pignanelli: Even the most ardent partisan Republicans believe that more members of the loyal opposition in public office will foster greater discussion of ideas and diminish intraparty GOP squabbles. But the pursuit of political diversity of Utah is akin to "eating better." We have the best of intentions but consume gallons of Diet Coke and pounds of potato chips. Utahns express support for balance in government but overwhelmingly select candidates from one party. Democrats must find that low-calorie but delicious political candy to change the numbers.

Webb: When my Democratic friends can't win on the merits, they like to revert to the "balance" argument. But voters select the candidate they like best, usually in their own political party. They seldom vote for balance. So if Democrats really want more moderate politics in Utah, here's a bright idea (only half-jesting): Dissolve the Democratic Party. Dump it. Get rid of it. All Utah Democrats become Republicans. Then we would have liberal Republicans, moderate Republicans, mainstream conservative Republicans and arch-conservative Republicans. We would truly be a one-party state, but it would be a really big tent with a lot of factions.

Intra-party runoffs would determine winners. Liberal, moderate and mainstream Republicans would far outnumber arch-conservative Republicans. More moderate leaders would be elected. Some moderates now running as Democrats would have a much better chance running as Republicans, if all the liberal and moderate votes were also in the Republican Party.

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