Pignanelli: Avoid being "Empeyed" Political observers love to personalize various activities of intrigue. You "Eddie Haskell" someone when using backstabbing gossip (named after the duplicitous snitch from the television program "Leave It to Beaver"). An official is "Monsonized" when persuaded by party leaders, on the slimmest of reasons, to retire from office and make way for the VIPs' friend. (In 1986, the well-liked 2nd Congressional District Congressman Dave Monson stepped down at the behest of GOP bigwigs. The anointed replacement was thrashed in the convention, and Republicans lost the seat to Wayne Owens, a result Monson may have prevented.) "I was LaVared" is favored by some lawmakers when describing a long, one-sided conversation. (The reference is to former Rep. LaVar Christensen famous for his stamina in speechmaking.) This is not to be confused with "That's just LaVarr," the line I use every Monday morning after readers offer a stinging critique of LaVarr Webb's contribution to this column.
The verb "to Empey" characterizes the actions of an arbitrator/liaison between political campaigns who releases the details of confidential discussions to the public, in order to benefit one candidate at the expense of the other. In the state treasurer's race, bank official Carl Empey offered his services as moderator between Mark Walker and Richard Ellis. He then blabbed the contents of their meetings to the lieutenant governor in a now-famous e-mail. LESSON: Always have a trusted companion along when meeting with the opposing candidate/campaign to refute any nasty allegations.
Incumbents: Beware the Ides of March The 3rd Congressional District primary provides a blueprint for longshot candidates to overcome overwhelming odds when challenging longtime officeholders. By using extremist rhetoric and a strong neighborhood organization, Jason Chaffetz built support among delegates to establish momentum with little cost. LESSON: Smart incumbents will recruit and solicit delegates long before the March 2010 precinct caucuses.Tip O'Neill was right The deceased U.S. Speaker of the House was famous for his emphasis on retail politics. Tuesday night's incumbent victims ignored Tip's advice. Chris Cannon was effective on technology and immigration issues. The defeated lawmakers were active and well-liked on Capitol Hill. But constituents were either unaware or did not care about their efforts. The lopsided results in the 3rd District contest reveals voters went to the polls not for Chaffetz, but to dump Cannon. Although some Republican leaders are grumbling how Chaffetz secured victory, his timing and strategy was brilliant. Chaffetz spent time in the district and exploited Cannon's weaknesses. LESSON: Popularity with colleagues is less valuable than time spent with constituents.
Webb: I'm not entirely sure what Frank has written, but he's right that a big difference exists between being "LaVared" and "LaVarred," as I'm sure LaVar Christensen would want clarified. One thing all politicians try to avoid is being "Pigged," which is to be assailed by a short, fast-talking Sicilian spouting gibberish.
One big lesson from the primary election is to be wary of anyone who spots lessons, trends and patterns in an election with very few contests to analyze and where only a tiny fraction of voters voted. I am very leery of conclusions that the primary vote means all incumbents are in trouble in the general election, or that Utahns are tired of conservative domination, or that an anti-voucher uprising is brewing or any other simplistic explanation.
The primary election turned much more on the individual circumstances of each race than on some overarching theme. Cannon lost not because he's an incumbent or because voters demanded "change," but he lost because he's never really connected with or communicated well with citizens in the 3rd Congressional District. He never built a grass-roots support system. For years, surveys have shown his approval ratings and support have been the lowest among members of the congressional delegation. His vulnerability has been obvious, and a strong Republican challenger would have defeated him in any of the last two or three elections. Cannon loved policy (and generally did a nice job with it) but not politics. That's the lesson.
Give Chaffetz credit. With little money and no big-name endorsements, he began working the "ground game" almost two years ago. He ran a smart, disciplined race with a laserlike focus on organizing each voting precinct and getting his people to the polls. It was the perfect race for a low-turnout primary.
The treasurer's contest, the other big race, was so skewed by widespread news coverage of alleged skullduggery that it's impossible to come up with any lessons except the obvious: Negative media coverage will destroy a campaign. Don't do anything to create a media feeding frenzy.It's true that voters today are restless. The mood out there is unpredictable. Incumbents can't take anything for granted. But the real lesson is that hard work, strong grass-roots organizing, great communications and the basics of excellent campaigning will still be what power political wins in Utah.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously 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. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].