With little more than two weeks to go before the March 17 candidate filing deadline for the 2008 election, it's time to start focusing on key races. Here are a few of the more intriguing questions:

Can Barack Obama beat John McCain in Utah?

Webb: Not hardly. McCain may be old and grumpy, and flirting with Obama may be the latest political fad, but Utahns will return to their first true love, the Grand Old Party. The swooning will stop once Obama is in the general election and has to answer for all the promises he's made to liberal Democrats in the primaries.

McCain, meanwhile, will win over Utahns once the choice is him vs. Obama. As Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman said, McCain may seem unappealing to conservatives when he's locking horns with Mitt Romney, "but let him start taking fire from Al Gore, Gloria Steinem, anti-war groups, environmental activists and teachers unions — not to mention The New York Times —and suddenly he will look lovelier than the Taj Mahal at sunset."

Pignanelli: Many Utah Democrats are bloodying their knees in prayer that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is selected for McCain's running mate. If the anti-Mormon preacher Huckabee is on the GOP presidential ticket, Obama (or Hillary Clinton) and numerous Democratic candidates sweep the state. Huckabee's bigotry is unlikely to, and should not, be rewarded. (But it would be fun to watch LaVarr squirm.) Utahns are tolerant and appreciate diversity, whether of color, ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation. Thus, race will not be an issue in November. Furthermore, the more Utahns learn of the Illinois senator, especially his background and character, they will be impressed with his self-made biography. Obama will do well in the Beehive State.

Can Josh Romney beat Jim Matheson?

Webb: No, but Josh Romney could give Matheson a real race and make him earn his seat. Josh Romney appears to be an attractive candidate (Frank has a crush on him), but we have no idea how good he really is. There's a big difference between traveling around the country for your dad and running a real congressional campaign. Josh Romney could have a bright future if he gets involved, pays his dues and builds the party. One way to start would be to take on Matheson and make a good showing.

Pignanelli: A number of my friends and acquaintances who know the son of former Gov. Mitt Romney described him as "handsome," "beautiful," "striking," etc. (and these comments are from men). With obvious good looks, a family fortune and a respected surname, Josh Romney could be a strong contender for the 2nd Congressional District. But Matheson (who has also never been described as ugly) remains formidable. Armed with a centrist voting record, Matheson is well known for a strong constituent program that garners compliments from even strident Republicans. Further, Matheson is a recognized fundraiser and strong campaigner. Further, no good reason exists why Matheson should be dumped. Thus, Josh Romney may attract initial interest, but most voters will remember Matheson's great work and return him to office by a large margin. All this talk is perhaps moot: Capitol politicos were buzzing last week that Josh Romney will soon terminate his candidate status.

Can any Republican beat Peter Corroon?

Webb: The Salt Lake County mayor is going to be tough. He's boring but sincere (that might be a good campaign theme), and voters seem to like him. His last election was a fluke, running in the wake of the Nancy Workman mess and against the late-to-the-party Ellis Ivory. Nevertheless, Corroon has handled his office reasonably well, and it's going to take a terrific candidate to make him a one-term mayor (especially if he uses my suggested campaign theme).

Ambitious young Republicans sometimes complain about gridlock at the top levels of Utah politics. There aren't enough offices for the many prospects who would like to serve, especially with Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett planning to die in office.

That's why any number of young, but solid, Republicans ought to be stepping up to take on Matheson and Corroon. Running a strong race, even if it loses, can be a good way to jump-start a political career. Plenty of terrific politicians lost their first time around.

Pignanelli: Some speculate Corroon uses a powerful body deodorant. They suggest this explanation as to why the mayor still smells good while deflecting the political stench that overwhelmed Salt Lake County leaders in past years. Nationally, voters are hungry for leaders willing to articulate decisions and avoid waffling (thus McCain and Obama). Salt Lake County residents are no different and appreciate Corroon's tough verdicts: refusing county support of the soccer stadium, minimizing budgetary expansion, constraining county shenanigans. Furthermore, Salt Lake County voters will be energized to swamp the polls on Election Day to support Obama or Clinton — a benefit to Corroon. It's March, and anyone thinking of running for mayor — regardless of credentials — should have started six months ago.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Formerly, he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. E-mail: [email protected].