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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: We can't help chiming in on the presidential debate

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 3:52 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama talks to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (Associated Press) President Barack Obama talks to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (Associated Press)

Every commentator on the planet has offered opinions about the debate last Wednesday night. But even though we're late, we can't resist weighing in and offering insights on a couple of other questions plaguing the political community.

Any debate impact on Utah's elections?

Pignanelli: "Obama came to the debate to have a conversation. Romney came with a chainsaw" — James Carville. I was a candidate in 1988 when the Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis blew the debate against George H.W. Bush. His clueless demeanor depressed those of us at the bottom of the ticket, but we eventually rebounded. Local Democrats can hope that Professor Obama stays home and sends Commander-in-Chief Obama to the next debate. (Better yet, send the first lady and her killer arms.)

Last week was the first time in this election season that Romney enjoyed universal praise from across the political spectrum. Not that it was needed, but the Romney momentum in Utah got a caffeine boost (this adjective is now allowed) from the debate performance and reviews. Utah Romney supporters appreciated this after his "47-percent video" debacle.

This new energy for Romney could instill greater support from Utah Independents and moderate Republicans for the GOP ballot — the very same groups most Democratic candidates need large slices of to prevail. Democrats must respond quickly by strengthening personal connections to voters and carving out their own message and presence, separate of the national party.

Webb: Clint Eastwood's GOP convention debate with an empty chair proved more prescient than anyone anticipated. Romney debated the same empty chair. Utah Republicans are happier than ever that Romney is at the top of the ticket. He should be good for at least a couple of points in many races.

Utah Democrats have two rosy theories about crossover voting. One is that Utah Republicans will want so much to actually press their thumb on the touch screen specifically for Romney that they won't be as likely to hit the straight-party vote button.

That provides some hope that moderate Republicans will cross over for down-ballot Democrats (like Jim Matheson and Ben McAdams). The other is the "'guilty conscience" theory that moderate Republicans feel in a one-party state they should vote for at least one Democrat. Neither theory is very plausible, but hope springs eternal when you're desperate.

If Obama is still leading in the polls after the debate, will it dampen Utah voter turnout or incentivize his legions of followers?

Pignanelli: Several vocal political veterans believe that if Romney encounters additional troubles, voter turnout could drop in Utah. These overpriced "experts" probably believe Mormons do not drink Diet Coke. In other words, these men and women do not understand the culture and psyche of the state. Voter turnout in 2012 will be record-breaking or close, regardless of Romney's standing in national polls.

Webb: The race is tight. Utah Republicans are motivated and enthusiastic, looking forward to more debates. They will get out and vote.

There was a collective gasp of surprise when KSL/Deseret News released a poll showing Mia Love ahead of Matheson. Is it a fluke, or is Utah's top Democrat in trouble?

Pignanelli: The Love campaign has endured organizational flaws, but the operators are shrewd tacticians. They clearly understand that if Mayor Love sticks to the script (Romney loves me, Matheson equals Obama, whack the budget, etc.) and does not make major mistakes in debates and speeches, she can ride the Romney wave to victory. The only thing that can stop her is the best campaigner in the state — Matheson, if he plays at the top of his game.

Matheson must remind voters of his incredible achievements on behalf of Utah. Further, caution must be exercised in attacking a woman whose family story has now become an official state legend. It's a tricky path for Matheson, but he has a record of success in tough situations.

Webb: Romney's resurgence certainly helps Love, who has tied herself closely to Romney and his family. Romney's son Josh was one of Love's earliest and strongest backers. Now that more Utahns believe Romney has a reasonable chance of winning, Love's arguments that he needs her there to help pass his congressional agenda is more compelling. She can more effectively "nationalize" the election by arguing that with Romney in the White House, Republicans must maintain control of the U.S. House and help Romney turn the country around.

Matheson is a fine political leader who has served the state well. But sometimes even good politicians can't withstand a tsunami. This may be the year that the realities of Matheson representing probably the toughest district in the country for a Democrat catch up with him.

That wouldn't necessarily mean the end of Matheson's political career. Times change, and political fortunes rise and fall. Matheson would be in play for future gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races.

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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