Democrats and their champion, Barack Obama, will bask in the national spotlight this week at their convention in Denver. We explore how the Democratic extravaganza will impact politics in Utah.

What are some things to watch for at the convention that could impact Utah politics?

Pignanelli: This Thursday will be the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Historians rank this oration, before 250,000 civil rights activists, as perhaps the greatest in the 20th century. Also this Thursday, Obama will accept the nomination from the Democratic Party for U.S. president. Almost 80,000 activists will be in attendance, while millions of Americans will watch on television.

Because of Obama's speaking abilities, the emotional impact of Thursday's events upon our country will be unprecedented. All Americans, regardless of political persuasion and preference for president, will burst with pride that King's vision is reality. Utahns will rejoice at the progress and tolerance of our nation and state. (Only the coldhearted, or bigoted, will be unmoved.)

Obama's handlers will craft the video and sound bites to develop a warm persona of the Illinois senator — acceptable to most Americans and Utahns. Granted, the convention will be bombarded with various special-interest groups, but expect few public discussions of hot button issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, the original Iraq vote etc.). Democrats want to win, and will avoid the disaster of 1968.

The national GOP made mincemeat of Al Gore and John Kerry in prior elections. The current Republican weaknesses and Obama's strengths — to be highlighted in the convention — will prevent this from reoccurring in 2008. By Friday morning, Democrats will be the "party of opportunity."

Webb: Hopefully, the convention will turn out to be an orgy of liberal politics promoting a left-wing agenda, highlighted by Katie Couric and the rest of the mainstream media (along with Frank) worshipping "The One." The cumulative impact of the images coming out of Denver should make most Utahns want to puke at the very thought of voting for a Democratic candidate.

Realistically, the Democrats will attempt to hide their true colors and portray a reasonable, mainstream, centrist image, banishing the Daily Kos and Huffington Post lefties, along with George Soros and Michael Moore, to some back room, like a bunch of crazy uncles they want to keep out of sight. However, despite efforts by party spinmeisters to script Democrats as religious, supportive of the military and even wanting to develop domestic energy sources, plenty of weirdness will get out. This will be the most-reported political event in history, with thousands of bloggers and amateur reporters capturing every moment. Any Howard Dean scream will be fully documented. No wonder Congressman Jim Matheson wanted to stay as far away from Denver as possible.

Will holding the convention in a western city in an adjacent state make the Democratic Party better accepted in Utah?

Webb: The Rocky Mountain area is the most economically dynamic, fastest-growing area in the country, so Democrats are smart to hold their convention in Denver. They hope to make inroads in Rocky Mountain states this year, especially Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. But close proximity won't necessarily mean increased affection for Democrats among Utah voters. In fact, it might backfire as Utahns get to see the national party up close and personal.

Pignanelli: In Denver, Democrats can emphasize to Westerners the shared concerns of water conservation, realistic energy policies, growth, etc. Utahns will see a rich diversity of Americans, many from the Rocky Mountain area, expressing their ideas and vision. Utah observers of the Democratic convention will not see crazy right-wing fundamentalist delegates attacking Mormons, as they are sure to witness at the GOP convention. Also missing in Denver will be Republican politicians who solicit sexual favors through text messaging teenagers or in airport bathrooms. (Democrats prefer the traditional and boring in their adulterous liaisons.)

Is Obama energizing young people in Utah like he is in other states? Will young people turn out to vote in greater numbers?

Pignanelli: Perceptions of quiet among Utah's youths are wrong. On college campuses (including BYU), single gatherings, chat rooms and blogs, momentum is building to engage in the political system. Obama has captured the attention of Utah's younger voters, including excited independents and thoughtful Republicans. Well-organized Democrats are tapping this potential while smart Republicans will avoid nasty remarks about Obama, and paint themselves as agents of change.

Webb: Many young people are caught up in Obama's charisma and novelty. But despite the most favorable political climate for Democrats in decades, Obama is struggling. Older, more traditional voters, including many independents, have doubts about his experience, judgment and his voting record as the most liberal member of Congress. And older voters still turn out in greater numbers. It would be the upset of the century if John McCain wins in such a tough environment, but Democrats are fully capable of blowing it.


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 minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].