Utahns are accustomed to sleepy odd-numbered years without the political noise and tumult of general election years. Well, the 3rd Congressional District special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz is adding some unusual summertime political heat. So what’s to be expected in the weeks ahead?
Although our column was written before Saturday’s Republican and Democratic conventions, the intriguing dynamics of this election were established earlier. Why is the unprecedented three-way (assuming someone other than John Curtis wins the convention vote) Republican primary election of so much interest to politicos and even well-adjusted people?
Pignanelli: "The essential ingredient of politics is timing.” — Pierre Trudeau
LORDY (to quote James Comey), this is going to be an entertaining political tussle! With an Aug. 15 primary, ballots are mailed to voters on July 25. Thus, the Republican trio of contenders have five weeks to educate primary voters why each should be the nominee — and the other two should not. Tanner Ainge (son of basketball legend Danny) is unknown — especially as to his political beliefs. A successful businessman, he will likely utilize personal resources for massive media and mail campaigns.
Provo Mayor John Curtis is very popular. But opposing campaigns will happily point out he is a former Democratic Party officer and candidate for the Legislature. (Such heinous acts are subject to the death penalty in Utah County). Curtis will devote considerable effort demonstrating he is cured of this horrible political leprosy.
The winner of Saturday's GOP convention (I predict State Sen. Deidre Henderson) will have the conservative bona fides needed to catch up in name recognition and contributions.
These dynamics are a recipe for fun and mischief. What is the level of nastiness in negative attacks? Will Ainge steal votes from Curtis and create a pathway for Henderson? Is Ainge’s newcomer status a benefit or hindrance? Could the heated municipal elections benefit Curtis?
Then the big “IF.” What if Danny Ainge, general manager of the Boston Celtics, entices beloved Jazz superstar Gordon Hayward away?
This election is more fun than summer television.
Webb: This special election is remarkable because GOP primary election voters will actually have a choice. Were it not for the Count My Vote/SB54 compromise, one candidate would have won a majority of delegate votes at yesterday’s GOP convention and would have emerged from the convention as the party’s nominee. GOP voters would have been shut out of the process.
Because Curtis and Ainge qualified for the ballot by gathering signatures, as allowed by SB54, voters will have a say in who becomes the GOP nominee.
With the primary field set, the candidates have about two months (less time actually, because ballots will go out three weeks earlier) to make their case to GOP voters.
It will be a rigorous test of a candidate’s leadership, organizational ability, communications skills, creativity and intelligence. I believe the best candidate will win, and Utah will be well-served.
Utah Democrats also held their convention on Saturday, with three candidates vying for the party's nomination to compete in the final election. Physician Kathryn Allen captured national attention and raised major contributions from around the country after announcing she would challenge Chaffetz. Does momentum exist for Democrats in this special election?
Pignanelli: Dr. Allen scored points with her fundraising achievement. But Chaffetz is out, and there is difficulty for left-wing groups to demonize a non-incumbent Republican nominee. Further, the heart of the district is Utah County.
But we are living in the Trump Era. Anything is possible.
Webb: In conservative Utah, Dems vs. the GOP is like the neighborhood sandlot baseball team taking on the New York Yankees. But before the big game the sandlot team members beat each other bloody in a big brawl over the batting order and who’s going to pitch. As if it mattered.
The Republican Party is splintered, but the Democrats are in worse disarray, veering far left and alienating moderates to ensure irrelevance.
Special elections in other parts of the country are receiving national attention as measures of Trump and Republican popularity and as bellwethers of 2018 congressional elections. Will Utah’s special election have any national significance?
Pignanelli: National special interest groups will engage in the primary election in order to claim victory and establish momentum going into 2018. The media will scrutinize how GOP candidates deal with the Trump factor and major issues.
Webb: If Provo Mayor John Curtis wins, it could be viewed as a small step toward political moderation and a more collaborative approach to politics. A Diedre Henderson win would bring accolades from groups encouraging more female participation in politics.
3rd District voters should absolutely reject interference in this race by national groups like Club for Growth or FreedomWorks. We don’t need outsiders telling us how to vote.
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 the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: email@example.com.