Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Who might run in the next few election cycles?

Published: Sunday, Sept. 8 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Mayor Ralph Becker rides in the Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. What does Becker's political future hold?

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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We're many months away from a general election, but it's never too early to speculate about who might run for what. So here is a list of people we expect might run for a major office sometime in the next few election cycles.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list because candidates always pop out from nowhere, especially in the case of open seats. Some on our list are currently incumbents with an eye on higher office. Some have never been candidates.

Some prominent business and community leaders who would make excellent candidates and officeholders would never run for office because they have no desire to put themselves and their families through the ordeal that our political process demands. Some question whether in politics today, especially in Congress, much can really be accomplished. That's unfortunate because we need the best and the brightest in government. We get plenty of people with healthy egos and ambition, but they don't always have a lot of experience and substance.

So here they are, mostly in alphabetical order, those likely to seek major office or take their political careers up a notch. Running for office is all about timing and what offices are available, so not all of these hopefuls will end up as candidates:

Not many Salt Lake City mayors (exceptions: Jake Garn and Ted Wilson) aspire to higher office because in today's politics one must be liberal to win the mayorship and conservative to win most anything else. Could Ralph Becker break the mold? He is well-liked, has good business support and could be a contender for county mayor should his protégé (Ben McAdams) ever leave. Becker must decide whether to run for re-election in 2015. Should he retire, a number of aspirants lust after his job (see below).

Third District Congressman Jason Chaffetz has favorable opportunities ahead. He can likely stay in the House as long as he desires, pursuing a leadership track, or he could run for the U.S. Senate or governorship. Although he has been less visible lately, Chaffetz has a knack for engaging the news media and is adept with social media. He is popular with Republican delegates and activists and thrives in today's hyper-partisan political world.

Businessman Jonathan Johnson, who runs Overstock.com, has made no secret of the fact that he wants to run for governor. He is smart, experienced and capable, and has strong conservative credentials.

The Democratic bench may be weak, but soon-to-be retiring State Sen. Pat Jones is second only to Jim Matheson as a Democrat able to win support in both parties. Jones has the experience, savvy and relationships in the business community to launch a credible campaign for Congress or statewide office.

Kirk Jowers, a media favorite and director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics is always fun to watch as he maneuvers for the right opportunity. He has staked out a strong position against the caucus/convention system. If there are no changes he is doomed, but if the state goes to a direct primary he could be a contender.

Dan Liljenquist made a name for himself as a state senator but then got walloped in the 2012 U.S. Senate GOP nomination battle by the Orrin Hatch juggernaut. Liljenquist has maintained high visibility and is watching and waiting for the next chance.

House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart is sending clear signals that she's interested in the governorship or possibly a congressional seat. She has enhanced her strength not just among Republican insiders, but also with the business community. She will need to remain a presence after her speakership ends next year. Lockhart and Chaffetz may have to decide who's running for Congress and who's running for governor (although the incumbent governor, Gary Herbert may still have influence in the matter).

Mia Love will run again against Jim Matheson in 2014, and the question is whether she will run a better and smarter campaign. She must throw some red meat to the far right to win the nomination, while not offending mainstream Republicans who will vote for Matheson if they feel she's too right-wing. It's tricky.

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