Your columnists are concluding a midsummer, two-part review of Utah's political parties as the election season progresses. This week: the Democrats.

Webb: This should be the Democrats' big year, even in Utah. Republicans at the national level are reeling, battered by an unpopular president, an unpopular war, skyrocketing gas prices and a faltering economy. Democrats are rallying around an exciting presidential candidate.

So if the Democrats can't win in this environment, they are in sad shape, indeed. Are they capable of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory?

This year Utah Democrats are attempting to portray themselves as mainstream moderates, acceptable to typical Mormon voters. If Democrats are ever going to win statewide in Utah, they must claim a reasonable share of Mormon votes.

But the moderate, sensible Democratic image gets shattered when some Democrats get together and do what Democrats do. The Democrats' "Mormon problem" is mostly of their own making. Check out, for example, a recent Salt Lake Tribune story (please read it at www.sltrib.com/news/ci_9798705) about a gathering of the "drinking liberally" group at which prominent Democrats were present and liberally quoted. Take a good read. Enjoy.

I'm sure this was just a group of good-old-boy-and-girl repressed liberal Democratic legislators and others, needing to blow off a little steam in Mormon-dominated Utah. They protest that they don't represent all Democrats, and they certainly don't mean anyone any harm. Just a bunch of smirking "progressives" feeling stifled by the culture, enjoying a little vulgarity and ribaldry ... har, har, hee, hee ... listening to a thumping beat, the lyrics about our president I'd rather not repeat ... Takin' it to those right-wing nuts. Livin' in Utah is just the dregs, so you can't blame them for enjoying a little hilarity with their cute logo, "The Angel Moroni tipping an elongated pint of beer in place of the horn." Har, har, hee, hee. But they're really not anti-Mormon. So what if their logo choice came down to "... either the angel on top of the temple or the Salt Lake skyline with the prominent and, um, phallic Church Office Building." Har, har, hee, hee. Just a bunch of progressives poking a little fun at the dominant culture. Nothing funnier than the raunchy comments reported in the story.

So let's suppose a group of smirking, loud-mouthed Republican legislators, staff and candidates attended a party where blaring loudspeakers leveled the f-word at Barack Obama and the symbols of another religion or ethnic group were ridiculed in a highly profane manner and other vulgarities and slurs were directed at Democratic leaders. Can you imagine the outrage? The calls for apologies and resignations? Apoplectic editorial writers and columnists would leap to their laptops to write scathing, self-righteous essays denouncing the nasty Republicans.

So where's the outrage when Democrats do it?

It's fun to get worked up about this. After all, it's good news for Republicans. Were I a GOP candidate in Davis or Utah County, where Democrats are trying to break through, I'd just print that Tribune story in a nice brochure, mail it to the voters in my district with a big headline: "Do you really want to vote for a Democrat and allow anti-Mormon, Utah-bashing bigots like these to run the state?"

Pignanelli: Yawn. Democrats drinking and swearing? Big deal. For decades Democratic saints and sinners have mixed together, respectively consuming Sprite (in pre-Diet Coke days) and liquor, with everyone providing colorful language. This tradition continues today. Yes, some Utahns may be uncomfortable with the event LaVarr describes, but they also fret over the conclaves of ultra-right-wing conservatives. (Just thinking about it scares most people.) Democrats proudly encompass a variety of personalities.

Unfortunately, belligerency toward the LDS haunts Democratic circles. Unscrupulous activists play the anti-Mormon card to raise money and garner votes. Too many "progressive liberals" thump their chests in support of human rights but judge LDS adherents by their faith and describe Mormons in derogatory terms. Hypocritical bigots who harbor problems with the church should seek resolution with a therapist, not a political party.

Yet a new wind is blowing that may scour these darker recesses. Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland and Vice Chairman Rob Miller have recruited outstanding candidates. Especially noteworthy are LDS contenders offering substantial challenges to GOP incumbents throughout the state, including Utah County. The Young Democrat organization (led by Matt Lyon, Justin Daniels and a board with substantial LDS representation) are energized and focused on registering new voters.

Utahns should remember Republicans in other states fostered religious bigotry to derail the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Conversely, Democrats enthusiastically elevated a Mormon to the second highest office in the country — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Utah Democrats are on a roll. Congressman Jim Matheson and Mayors Peter Corroon and Ralph Becker are popular. Obamamania is spurring momentum, while the state GOP is in confusion. This is good news for everyone: Democrats (who need the boost), Republicans (who need active opposition) and all Utahns, who need a dynamic exchange in the local marketplace of ideas.


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. E-mail: [email protected].