For only the fourth time in U.S. political history, the national party conventions are back to back. The short break in between allows us to comment on both conventions.

What was the good, and the bad, of the Democratic convention in Denver?

Webb: The good: Democrats had an OK convention. It was a disciplined, well-scripted performance with key speakers staying on message and avoiding major gaffes. It was helpful to have a bit of intrigue (Will Hillary Clinton really embrace Barack Obama?), which gave the pundits something to talk about. And history was truly made with the nomination of the first black presidential candidate.

Obama predictably got a boost in the polls, although Republicans quickly recaptured the limelight with John McCain's vice presidential announcement and the beginning of the GOP convention on Monday.

The bad: It was Halloween in August, one of the scariest events I can remember, as top Democrats highlighted the agenda they will pursue if they win the presidency and gain super-control of the Senate. They promised to deliver every big-government, budget-busting program known to humankind. And this time, unfortunately, they could deliver. With the presidency and 60 votes or more in the Senate, it will be the nation's worst nightmare, with Democrats pledging higher taxes, government-run health care, less drilling for oil and gas, higher deficits, more trade restrictions, unions gaining far greater clout — in short, bigger and more expensive government as far as the eye can see. They want government running every aspect of our lives.

In the recent past, we've had a president and/or enough conservatives in the Senate to prevent serious liberal mischief. But with a filibuster-proof Congress and a president egging them on, it will be like giving the keys to the liquor cabinet to a bunch of hard-partying adolescent alcoholics.

Certainly, the Republicans didn't do a great job when they were in charge, which is one of the reasons they're now in serious trouble. But based on what I heard from the convention, the answer isn't to turn total control over to the Democrats.

Pignanelli: The good: All Americans should be proud that that the nation's oldest political party, with the dark heritage of protecting slavery and Jim Crow laws, has nominated a black candidate for president. Democrats presented the country with a high quality, well-organized event, and the Obama-Biden team deserves a boost in the polls.

The bad: It wasn't all warm and fuzzy. Most speeches were laced with too many attacks and barbs. The Republicans are in trouble because of their own stumbles, a fact that voters need little reminding. Thus, an opportunity was lost for Democrats to reach out to grumpy Republicans.

What can Utahns expect from the Republican convention this week?

Pignanelli: I suggest readers play a little game while watching the convention: Count the number of times Ronald Reagan is mentioned (bring your calculator) and references to Bush (one hand will suffice). Republicans will stumble over each other to distance themselves from the president. (Recent commercials of McCain condemn Washington incompetence with the statement "We're worse off than we were four years ago.") In the spirit of bipartisan comradeship, I am looking forward to highlights of the courage McCain exhibited in Vietnam and Congress.

For the first time in years, national Republicans are not completely depressed — McCain is even in the polls. An inordinate amount of time will be focused on McCain's vice presidential choice, to generate enthusiasm within a national party that is struggling. Readers are encouraged to enjoy the creative energy used to paint an optimistic tone on an election season predicted to be a rough ride.

Webb: The GOP convention will have a little more drama now as the delegates and the country get to know Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. McCain will perform a careful balancing act to reassure the conservative GOP base, while showing independents and Reagan Democrats that he is still a maverick with an independent streak.

McCain's running mate: A slingshot to victory or potential disaster?

Pignanelli: All summer long I taunted my Republican friends that McCain lacked the courage and vision to select a woman or person of color for a running mate. I was wrong. The choice of Palin was a smart move to deflect the Obama momentum and possibly capture frustrated Clinton supporters (limited potential). The good news for Democrats is government experience is no longer a valid critique of Obama-Biden. Indeed, the dynamics of the campaign are likely to change for the better: i.e., the debate over who has the best policies and not the longest voting record.

Webb: The Palin selection is either a big winner or a big flop. It validates McCain's reputation as a maverick willing to take chances. Obama needed an experienced, old, white-haired guy to make up for his inexperience. McCain didn't need an old, white-haired guy because that's what he is. Palin's burden will be showing she's not a lightweight, that she can assume the presidency if something should happen to McCain. It's a risky choice.


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: lwebb@exoro.com. 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: frankp@xmission.com.