The "veepstakes" is generating big buzz in Utah, especially because adopted favorite son Mitt Romney remains a top GOP contender.

Once dismissed as a long shot, Romney is now in the top tier of v.p. possibilities.

Does he have a real shot and can he help John McCain win the presidency?

Pignanelli: The beta (or trial) version of Romney 3.0 is popular with national Republicans. Readers may recall that version Romney 1.0 (liberal) was used in the U.S. Senate and Massachusetts gubernatorial contest; version Romney 2.0 (very conservative) was unsuccessfully utilized in the GOP presidential primaries. Apparently, the third time is the charm.

These are the current political dynamics: Barack Obama is ahead by eight points; President George Bush's approval rating is at an all-time low; McCain is behind in all categories of voters except white males. So who are the top three contestants for VP? Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Bush budget director Rob Portman. In other words — all white guys that look like Bush. It is amazing that McCain may overlook tremendous up-and-coming Republicans like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiona or former Congressman JC Watts. If there was ever an election where demography was more important than geography, this is it. If McCain continues with his death wish to bore the country, Romney will be selected. Indeed, Romney version 4.0 (expected October 2008) could appeal to independents outside of Michigan and Utah.

Webb: Romney is McCain's best choice for a number of reasons. While voters vote for the president, not the vice president, the wrong v.p. selection can hurt a lot. It may sound appealing to choose a fresh face, but vice president of the United States is no place for amateurs. This is not a training ground, especially given McCain's age and health. Romney has been tried and tested on the national stage. He has the substance and presence to play a big role in the campaign. No one is better suited to the "attack dog" role than Romney. He can energize the Republican base, and he and McCain seem to have developed a real rapport.

What impact does a vice presidential candidate Romney have on Utah culture and Utah politics?

Webb: Having Romney on the presidential ticket would clearly provide an election spark for Utah Republicans, as if they needed the help. However, none of the statewide or congressional races are really competitive anyway, so the only real impact would be in a handful of close legislative races where Republicans may be able to better drive voter turnout with Romney on the ticket.

Romney's religion would again attract a lot of attention, but we've been there, done that. Romney and his LDS religion were thoroughly vetted and scrutinized during the primary season. Clearly, some Mormon haters will never be appeased and will try to take advantage of the focus on Romney. Anti-Mormon Web sites would again get some attention. But Romney wears well, and the more voters get to know him the better they like him. Meanwhile, all the increased scrutiny and attention the LDS Church receives is, long term, more helpful than hurtful. The church has become more sophisticated in dealing with it.

Pignanelli: Utahns eager for another national Romney presence should remember "be careful of what you wish for." The Utah GOP will expend a massive effort to turn over every rock (and anywhere else Republicans exist) to drive voter turnout to unprecedented margins. An unexpected boon to Utah Republicans, this is akin to the Black Death for Utah Democrats — who are expecting a great year. But Romney will again be a huge media target for his flip-flops, religion and style. During the primary season, he consistently stumbled on questions regarding his faith and numerous political epiphanies. Many questioned the strength of his convictions. Further, the FLDS controversy will haunt him. Honesty/reality check: Notwithstanding his other strong attributes, if Romney repeats the incompetent performance he delivered in the primaries while responding to these inquiries, LDS may wonder if the negative attention was worth the v.p. slot.

Will Barack Obama's v.p. sidekick have an impact on Utah elections?

Pignanelli: Without Romney, a smart choice on the Democrat slate can be helpful. In 1988, Utah cared little for Michael Dukakis, but were impressed with his solid v.p., Lloyd Bentsen, senator and businessman from Texas. Utahns will like Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, the state's former governor, or Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Obama is unlikely to win Utah, but his v.p. choice could help the ballot.

Webb: Obama will likely choose a seasoned, substantive veteran of national politics to help balance his ticket. If he chooses a moderate, which is probable, that could help him a bit in Utah, offsetting the fact that he is the most liberal senator in the country. But it is Obama himself that has gotten Democrats excited, and his v.p. selection won't make much difference.

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].