The national political scene is highly partisan and discordant. Local candidates must take into account what's happening at the national level. Here are questions being asked.
How will the big national issues like health care reform, climate change initiatives and the budget deficit impact Utah politics in 2010?
Pignanelli: "The opposing party rarely causes so much angst as does one's own." — Dick Morris, former adviser to President Bill Clinton and current Fox News analyst.
Utahns should expect increased amounts of overanalyzing from the news media and the national clinical parties toward whatever Congress produces or doesn't produce as to these issues. Voters will be cajoled and pushed to select local candidates on the basis of what is happening in the nation's capital. Yet this will be difficult. Both parties shoulder responsibility for the massive federal debt, so there is no advantage in the 2010 elections. Nothing substantive is likely to happen regarding climate change, and all proposed health care reforms do not kick in until 2013. Instead, Utahns will be more concerned as to our state economy, the impact of reduced government services and the potential of increased taxes.
Webb: National issues are currently big negatives for Utah Democrats and will probably remain so during the election year. Many Utah Democrats (except those in highly liberal Salt Lake City) are going to have to run ultra-local races and avoid affiliation with national Democrats and particularly the Democratic Congress.
That's not terribly difficult to do, and most Utah voters will make the distinction between local and national Democrats. But many Democratic candidates will need to come across as moderate, mainstream problem-solvers, focused on local issues, rather than as partisan ideologues. Even so, the national political climate should give Republicans a couple of extra points on election day.
Will the Democratic Congress, personified by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, be a drag on Democratic candidates in Utah in 2010?
Webb: The "do-nothing" U.S. Congress, for years considered a failure and fiasco by citizens, has become more activist with big Democratic majorities and a Democratic president. But many citizens, especially in Utah, don't like where Congress is going on the big issues. So Congress has gone from "do nothing" to "wrong direction."
Thus, Republicans will attempt to tie Democratic candidates to the highly unpopular Pelosi and Reid. If they can do it successfully, it will be worth a few points on election day.
Pignanelli: Barack Obama carried a number of candidates into office across the country but had small coattails in Utah. Consequently, any unpopularity he has in Utah will have little impact upon Democratic candidates. Indeed, local Democrats must work hard in every election cycle to get elected, which they will do again in 2010 — ensuring their success. References to Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid will be ineffective, as it is well known that Utah's leading Democrat (Jim Matheson) is not their lackey.
Is Congressman Jim Matheson in danger of losing support from moderates and independents and thus more vulnerable in 2010 than in most of his previous elections?
Pignanelli: No. If Matheson were viewed as vulnerable, strong opponents would have already announced. None have done so. This is a clear signal everyone understands that Matheson's thoughtful and deliberative demeanor is well-accepted by Utahns of all political stripes.
Webb: This is going to be a tricky election for Matheson. He has mastered the art of being a loyal Democrat, while distancing himself from his national party, its positions and its leaders. But this election, more than any in recent history, will test his political dexterity.
I've heard from moderates and independents who are so concerned about the direction of the country that this election has been "nationalized" for them. They want Democrats out of power and will vote against Matheson to make it happen. However, to beat Matheson, Republicans will have to nominate a strong, attractive, mainstream Republican who can raise big money and run a near-perfect campaign. I'm not seeing such a candidate out there. Matheson is way ahead in money and organization. This is the best opportunity in years to knock off Matheson, but it probably won't happen.
Will Republican congressional candidates be successful as the "party of no," or will they need to provide good alternatives to unpopular Democratic initiatives?
Webb: Republicans have enjoyed life on the outside, taking potshots at the governing party. But any momentum they have is a result of Democratic weakness, not Republican strength. The GOP is splintered, leaderless and lacks a unifying message. To re-emerge as the majority party, the Republicans must produce plans to solve the nation's major problems.
Pignanelli: On a national level, GOP candidates have a great opportunity to benefit from the current struggle between left-wing and moderate Democrats. But they need ideas to do so. Almost half the people in the country label themselves as conservative, but only 20 percent as Republicans. Also, recent political moves by Republicans ring hollow. Conservatives know the budget deficits cannot be tackled unless entitlement programs are streamlined. Yet national Republicans are now posturing against Medicare cuts. Americans are hungry for tough but practical solutions. Just grumbling about Obama/Pelosi/Reid is not a formula for success.
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]