Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Can Mitt Romney recover from his rough patch?

Published: Sunday, Sept. 23 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Del Mar, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.  (Charles Dharapak, AP) Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Del Mar, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, AP)

Hardly a dull moment exists in politics. Here are some current topics keeping tongues wagging:

Mitt Romney is going through a rough patch. Can he recover?

Pignanelli: "Romney can't seem to get his message across because it's hard to talk with both a silver spoon and a foot in your mouth." — Jay Leno. Last week, I patronized a fast-food restaurant and witnessed a single working mother frantically taking orders behind the counter while engaging in a desperate telephone conversation to resolve day-care issues for her young children. While watching this heart-rendering spectacle, I realized her income and deductions were such that she was submitting payroll — but not income — taxes. She was one of the "47 percent" disparaged by Romney. This valiant woman, like millions of Americans struggling to get ahead, did not deserve the insults Romney heaped upon her.

My personal experience illuminates what is happening across the nation. Romney's gaffe is not causing significant movement in the polls, but he is eliminating the "enthusiasm gap" that was preventing disenchanted Democrats from supporting Barack Obama with passion.

Republican federal candidates are distancing themselves from the party flag bearer. Rational minds understand our country must reduce and restructure federal subsidies to Americans and businesses at all income levels. But many conservative politicos now concede that Romney has lost the moral authority to lead this effort. Only a massive external tragedy (violent terrorism, European economic disintegration) could save his candidacy.

Webb: We're entering the fourth quarter and Romney is only down a touchdown. The outcome will still be determined by the debates and how well each campaign turns out its voters. Romney's leaked comments about the "47 percent" were certainly ill-phrased. Conservatives can actually make a very compelling case that their principles and policies are more compassionate, especially in the long term, than big-government liberal solutions.

But instead of articulating in human terms the moral case for conservatism, too many Republicans talk numbers and balanced budgets. Romney lost momentum, but it's not too late.

Is Salt Lake County still winnable for Democrats, and what are the implications for the county mayor and 4th Congressional District races?

Pignanelli: Salt Lake County voters can be as unpredictable as a BYU field-goal kicker (sorry, I could not resist). They supported Jon Huntsman and Obama in 2008. They love Mayor Peter Corroon, but not when he attacked Gary Herbert. Jim Matheson is more popular than Romney. Thus, the "Romney tsunami" may only be a tropical storm in the county — allowing opportunities for Democrats with the proper message to survive and flourish.

Webb: Salt Lake County is a politically promiscuous place. Republicans outnumber Democrats, but Republicans are prone to stray. A moderate, attractive Democratic suitor often tempts GOP infidelity.

In 2010, the nationwide tea party uprising against Obamacare and Democratic rule in Washington, D.C., enticed Salt Lake County Republicans to come home and embrace Herbert against the popular Corroon. But ardor for GOP candidates seems to be waning a bit this cycle in the county, even with Romney at the top of the ticket. Mia Love and Mark Crockett must woo effectively for the affection of fickle county Republicans.

The Salt Lake bar scene gets a little more lively with the City Council allowing neighborhood pubs. Is this a good idea?

Pignanelli: My grandfather was a "distributor of hearty beverages" to thirsty Salt Lakers during Prohibition. My father worked in his father's later legitimate operations. I was employed as a bus boy and bartender in a number of local watering holes. Rarely a Friday afternoon passes without my patronizing an establishment with friends or when traveling. My family has a significant and enjoyable tradition of frequenting bars … but I do not want one on my street.

Council members Jill Remington and Charlie Luke offered commonsense alternatives to increase restaurants offering alcoholic drinks in commercial zones. Alcohol focused operations do not belong in residential neighborhoods.

Webb: I enjoy living in the heart of downtown, and several bars flourish in my neighborhood. I walk two blocks to work and pass three social clubs on Main Street. These appear to be friendly places in the "Cheers" tradition, where chic people (like Frank) relax after work with a few drinks and good conversation. On the fringes of downtown, however, are a number of other bars. It's downright scary walking past some of them after dark.

Many years ago as a cub reporter, I covered the Salt Lake police beat, where I would skim through the police reports, ranging from routine traffic stops to grisly murders. I was always struck by the number of police incidents that occurred or started at bars. Police were called to certain bars two or three times a night. Daily, I read police reports about knife fights, brawls, shootings, drunken driving accidents, murders, rapes and gang activities that occurred inside bars, in the parking lots or after spending time at bars.

I remember taking some of these reports to a youth group I was working with at the time and telling them, in essence, "I can't promise you'll never be a victim of crime. But I can tell you how you can reduce the chances. It's pretty simple. Just stay away from bars."

So what will Salt Lake City's neighborhood pubs be like? A "Cheers" bar, where everyone knows your name, you enjoy good laughs and delightful banter? Or will they be seamy, dark, desperate places, where alcohol is the point and police reports are produced?

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. 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: frankp@xmission.com.

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