The national conventions are over. Labor Day is past. Now begins the final stretch, the 58-day sprint to the finish line. Here are some questions enquiring minds are asking:

Which party comes out of the two-week convention period with the most momentum?

Pignanelli: That rusty Oldsmobile beater that is the national GOP was crawling down the highway with no chance of catching up to the Democrats. But with an infusion of "Palin power" in the gas tank, there is a roar in the engine not heard for a long time, and Republicans have a new boost of speed. Yet and despite John McCain's admirable attempts to distance the party from the unpopular president, the GOP momentum will soon stall from the heavy burdens of President Bush (the guy never mentioned in the convention). "Palin mania" is a distraction in the media but Barack Obama's followers remain unfazed and continue in their trajectory. This election is a mirror of 1980: an unpopular administration, but voter unease with the charismatic challenger. As with 1980, this contest will be decided by performance in the debates. Indeed, the vice presidential debates could influence the final outcome.

Webb: Democrats had a good convention. They emerged unified and enthusiastic, led by a ticket of two Washington insiders. Republicans had a fantastic convention, especially considering the shaky start: the loss of the entire first day and the major distraction and initial uncertainty, even disarray, over the Sarah Palin selection. The Republicans had a good second day at the convention and an incredible third day. The Giuliani/Palin one-two convention punch was the most effective political performance I've seen in many years of watching politics. John McCain topped it off with a terrific speech Thursday night. So the GOP base is charged up, independent voters are taking notice, and the McCain-Palin ticket is going to peak at the right time.

To be sure, a lot of election is yet ahead, and things are going to quickly deteriorate into a frenzy of mean, nasty and incessant attack ads and vitriolic rhetoric, especially in the battleground states. But no one doubts now that the Republican ticket can handle the heat. The Democratic attack theme of "four more years of George Bush" will wither under McCain's resurgent reputation as a maverick and a running mate as far from good-old-boy, Washington-insider status as one can get.

Is McCain's choice of Palin and her convention performance a home run or a strikeout?

Webb: A grand-slam home run by an unknown rookie that liberals and pundits had written off as a minor-leaguer. It may not have been a game-winner (yet), but it was certainly a game-changer, with Republicans truly excited for the first time in the entire election season. Palin is going to attract huge crowds and drive them to frenzy wherever she appears. A rock-star political phenomenon has been born, exactly what the somewhat-stodgy, somewhat-irascible (yet still a maverick) McCain needed.

Pignanelli: A home run. ... in the bottom of the eighth inning. But it takes more than one home run to win a baseball game against an opponent several runs ahead. Her convention performance was very good: strong but not shrill, appealing to middle-class blue-collar families. Of course, it always helps to have the crowd warmed up by an articulate Italian (Rudy Giuliani). As a lifelong Utahn, I was cheered by her defense of small towns and small states. Further, Palin and Obama demonstrate the American dream — regardless of humble beginnings — is alive and well. Yet Palin's current appeal will diminish as voters learn of her extremist and strange views on some issues. She has a preacher problem similar to Obama — her former pastor publicly states that President Bush was anointed by God and all his critics are destined for hell. (It will be a crowded, but fun, bipartisan netherworld.)

What will be the impact of the conventions on Utah political races?

Pignanelli: The strong winds the state experienced last weekend were caused by thousands of sighs of relief exhaled by Democrats when learning Mitt Romney was not McCain's running mate. Utah Democrats remain energized and have accelerated their tremendous grass-roots efforts.

The GOP remains haunted by the incompetence and wastefulness of the Bush administration, which gives fodder to the Democrats. Utah GOP, frustrated by Romney's loss in the primaries and the unpopularity of their national party, remain worried about several local races. Romney on the vice presidential slot guaranteed lopsided victories that even a conservative Western woman cannot deliver. Thus, Republicans in tight races will have to hit the streets and campaign like Democrats.

Webb: Mitt who? After Palin's performance, who cares? Palin will energize and unite Utah Republicans almost as much as Romney would. The GOP convention has left Utah Republicans enthusiastic and optimistic after several years of disgust with Washington (even when Republicans were in control). McCain/Palin will win big at the top of the ticket in Utah, and some GOP candidates on the bubble will be swept to victory in the current.


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].