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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Awards to the best and worst of politicians in 2012

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 4:06 a.m. MDT

Votes are counted during a GOP Caucus meeting at Lone Peak High School in Highland. Thousands turn out at their neighborhood caucus meeting around Utah Thursday, March 15, 2012. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Votes are counted during a GOP Caucus meeting at Lone Peak High School in Highland. Thousands turn out at their neighborhood caucus meeting around Utah Thursday, March 15, 2012. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Pignanelli & Webb: Believe it or not, the big 2012 political year has come to a close. As our final act of columny in 2012, we hand out year-end awards to deserving politicians.

Best political decision of the year: The LDS Church's decision to strongly encourage members to attend party caucuses in the early spring, and even cancel meetings to facilitate attendance. The result was an enormous turnout at caucuses with more mainstream delegates elected. That set the tone for the entire election year.

Most laid-back campaign: Once Congressman Jason Chaffetz decided not to run against Sen. Orrin Hatch, he barely had to break a sweat in his 3rd District re-election campaign. He had plenty of free time to travel the country as a Mitt Romney surrogate and still won with 76 percent of the vote.

Best Democratic newcomer: Donna McAleer, who raised a lot of money and ran a feisty campaign against Congressman Rob Bishop in the 1st Congressional District. The well-liked Bishop was never in any trouble in the Republican-dominated district, but McAleer impressed people with her resume and hard work.

Best performance in a tough situation: Congressman Jim Matheson bucked formidable odds to squeak out a win in the new 4th District. He fought off redistricting, an historic and well-funded opponent in Mia Love, and a Republican sweep at the top of the ticket.

Biggest missed opportunity: Republicans had the setup of a lifetime to defeat Matheson, but they blew it. While young and inexperienced, Love was a solid candidate with a lot of assets. Republican leadership didn't step in soon enough with strong campaign management to mount a superior ground game. Matheson matched their paid media campaign and outperformed them on the ground.

Most boring politicians who are also effective: Utah Republicans are often mocked for their rigid and reserved demeanor (well-deserved). But the driest public speakers — who have achieved some success — are Democrats: Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and outgoing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

Weirdest event of 2012: Days before the state GOP convention, Rep. Carl Wimmer publicly endorsed Ron Paul for president over Mitt Romney, and the expected result occurred — Wimmer lost in convention. Second place: That convention is still generating all sorts of conspiracy theories about how Chris Stewart prevailed over a number of strong opponents, avoiding a primary in the 2nd District.

Most disappointed politicians: State and national Republicans were confident that Obamacare would be dismantled by the U.S. Supreme Court, that the GOP would win a majority in the U.S. Senate, and that Mitt Romney would become president. 0 for 3 isn't a great record.

Most entertaining politician of the year: Democratic Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley. He consistently used humor, and he won by a bigger margin than ever in a Republican year.

Best use of social media: Jon Huntsman's daughters (Liddy, Abby, and Mary Anne) spoofed a Herman Cain Internet commercial and became popular bloggers and tweeters. Whether you love them or not, they are still getting good press.

Retiring politician we'll miss: Attorney General Mark Shurtleff never shied away from a fight, whether the opponent was on the left or right. His commitment to civil rights and respect for the immigrant community gained national recognition.

Another retiring politician we will really miss: We won't accuse other politicians of lacking the virtues of humility and guilelessness; instead we'll just emphasize that former state representative and state budget director Ron Bigelow was the Platonic ideal of modesty in public service.

Scandal-plagued politician in best position for a comeback: Since Utah does not have a recall provision, Brigham City Mayor Dennis Fife can continue to defy the demands of his City Council and many residents that he resign in light his confession of recent infidelity.

Masters of the political universe: Sen. Orrin Hatch and his campaign team, led by experienced operative David Hansen, built a campaign with excellent field and technology operations. Candidates for 2014 are already knocking at their doors begging for advice.

Most embarrassing moment by someone with a Utah connection: Olympus high school graduate Karl Rove's emotional meltdown on election night is well documented on YouTube. Watching his attempted rebound will be great entertainment in 2013.

Legislator who had the best year: House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart won respect from her colleagues for overcoming many challenges, and her popularity within Republican ranks continues to grow. It's no secret she has higher aspirations.

Politicos who had the overall worst year: Tea party candidates and activists lost at party caucuses, at conventions and in primaries. Nationally, they're getting blame for poor showings in U.S. Senate races.

Overall best year: Gov. Gary Herbert has had a nice ride. The state continues to win all sorts of recognition, and Herbert was re-elected with close to 70 percent of the vote. He has a bit of Teflon, deflecting criticism. Nationally acclaimed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie even blew off a Bruce Springsteen concert to speak at Herbert's fundraiser.

Biggest flameout of the year: The media expected nasty consequences from the huge expenditures made by super PACs. To be kind, their impact was minimal.

Most promising political operatives: Justin Miller (Ben McAdams' campaign manager), Brian Steed (Chris Stewart's campaign manager) Brenna Maren and Chase Clyde (Matheson's field operations).

Best campaign slogan: Rep. John Dougall was never boring in the Legislature, and his "Frugal Dougall" campaign rhyme was amusing to everyone except ousted incumbent Auston Johnson.

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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