Pignanelli & Webb: Although Utah's U.S. Senate GOP contest has dominated the headlines, other fascinating intraparty races are also playing out. County conventions are now underway, and state Republican and Democratic conventions are coming up in less than three weeks. The competition for delegate support is intense. Here are some races to watch:
U.S. Senate Democratic nomination: For a minority party, Utah Democrats have fielded a number of solid candidates for statewide and local offices, including two candidates vying for Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat. Businessman and Internet entrepreneur Pete Ashdown (who ran in 2006), started his campaign early and was the presumed nominee. But former Utah Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell entered the race at the last minute. Howell is a moderate who built bridges between Democrats and the business community, while tweaking right-wing activists. A recently retired IBM executive, Howell offers technology savvy similar to Ashdown. Both candidates have deep roots in Democratic politics, and the outcome may have ramifications for the party long after the election.
Republican 2nd Congressional District nomination Congressional contests in party caucuses didn't get a lot of discussion. Thus, it's hard to get a feel for delegate support, especially in an 11-person race. However, it appears that Chris Stewart and former House Speaker David Clark have the most resources and are the 2nd District front-runners, with Cherilyn Eagar, Jason Buck, Howard Wallack, Chuck Williams, John Willoughby and Bob Fuehr working hard for delegate support. Clark has a base in Washington County, while Stewart is well-known in Davis County. They're battling for Salt Lake County delegates. A little intrigue has been injected in the race because Clark has a banking background and credit union lobbyists seem to be supporting Stewart, even though the bank/credit union fracas is rather quiet right now. Stewart has also touted endorsement and fundraising help from arch-conservative commentator Glenn Beck, which might not be helpful given the more moderate tone of the party caucuses in March. With so many candidates in the race, it's important to be a delegate's second or third choice, if not first choice, so candidates are being careful to play nice with each other.
GOP 4th Congressional District nomination: Notwithstanding all the candidates who filed for the 2nd District, the battle for the 4th will be the most intense. The top three contenders are current or recently retired elected officials who each have an established base. Former Reps. Stephen Sandstrom, Rep. Carl Wimmer and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love are the leading candidates. Wimmer, a conservative brawler and founder of the Patrick Henry Caucus, was the favorite at the beginning of the election season. However, the change in delegates has shifted the balance — especially toward Love. She is young and relatively inexperienced, but her charisma and personal story are both unusual and appealing. She has enjoyed national attention because she would be the first ever Republican black female member of the U.S. House. Sandstrom gained a reputation as a hardliner on immigration (and argues he doesn't deserve that reputation), but otherwise has been a mainstream legislator. He has the most resources to devote to the race. Jay Cobb is also an attractive candidate in the race. The issue of electability looms large, because the GOP nominee faces formidable Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson and will have to attract moderate Republican and independent votes. This is likely to go to a primary.
GOP gubernatorial nomination: Even though Gov. Gary Herbert faces three legitimate GOP opponents, this race has been relatively quiet, with Herbert expected to easily emerge from the convention (and don't bet against him winning 60 percent). Based on what happened in 2010, David Kirkham (a Utah tea party founder), Rep. Ken Sumsion, and former legislator and state GOP vice chair Morgan Philpot, all assumed that their strong conservative ideologies would win delegate support against the conservative but practical, incumbent governor. It hasn't turned out that way, and the three are having a hard time gaining traction. At a recent appearance by all the candidates at a business luncheon, the candidate who delivered the best speech was actually Peter Cooke, the Democratic candidate for governor.
Some legislative races to watch:
At the height of the tea party uprising within the Utah Republican Party, Casey Anderson was selected to replace the deceased Sen. Dennis Stowell in southwestern Utah. Anderson is now running for a full term but is challenged by Rep. Evan Vickers — a well-respected businessman from Cedar City. The result will offer insight into the current makeup of Republican delegates.
A former County Commissioner, Sen. Ralph Okerlund from Monroe, is running for re-election to his south-central Senate seat. However, Rep. Patrick Painter from Nephi, who is well known for his water expertise in the Legislature, is challenging him.
State Sen. John Valentine offered legislation to assist Rep. Craig Frank, when Frank learned that he no longer lived in his legislative district. In an interesting twist, Frank is now challenging his former friend for the Senate seat. Valentine has been a major player in a host of important issues at the Capitol for 25 years, but redistricting gives him a lot of new voters. This battle will be closely followed by legislative observers.
State Sen. Curt Bramble is famous for his passion and ability to sponsor and pass legislation. He fell out of favor among some in the tea party movement and is challenged by BYU professor Andrew Holmes. This race is definitely on the watch list.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a 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 state tax commissioner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.