Associated Press
In this Oct. 5, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a couple of children during a rally in Abingdon, Va.

Combatants in 2012 races have rounded the last bend and are sprinting toward the finish line. Here are some questions enquiring minds want answered.

Even Republicans in local races are tying themselves to Mitt Romney and are asking Democratic opponents if they will vote for Barack Obama. How big does the presidential contest loom in Utah campaigns?

Pignanelli: "We all like to hear a man speak out on his convictions and principles. But when you're running on a ticket, you're running with a team." — Richard J. Daley. Presidential politics is not an issue in Utah's elections this year; it is THE ONLY ISSUE! Local Republicans finally awoke from their post-primary nap to begin torturing feisty Democrats who were campaigning the past six months. The 2012 path to victory for Utah's GOP is easy. First snuggle up to Mitt (78 percent approval rating). Second, paint your opponent as an Obama Democrat (approval rating 22 percent). Third, ask the Democrat in public his/her preference for president and enjoy the squirming.

Forcing Democrats to announce their presidential preference is an especially brutal but effective tool. The pride many Utahns maintain for Romney ?— bolstered by his strong debate performances — is beyond party preference and very personal to voters. Further, most Democratic candidates need a chunk of Republican votes. If a Democrat espouses support of Obama from party fealty, the ability to persuade Republicans to break a similar loyalty becomes difficult. The truly brave will just defend Obama and hope for the best. Granted, this dynamic does not lead to robust policy discussions, but Republicans have opted for the strategy "If you got it, flaunt it."

Webb: Republicans in congressional races, especially, benefit with Romney at the top of the ticket. GOP congressional candidates can argue that Romney needs them to maintain GOP control of the House, or to win control of the Senate, so he can govern effectively.

Romney isn't as important in local races, although Republicans are dumping Obama baggage on opponents by asking if they will vote for Obama for president. It's a very tough environment for Democrats, especially those in Republican-leaning jurisdictions where moderate Democrats have historically been able to win.

Many Democratic candidates are making an issue of one-party rule in Utah. Would Utah be better served with more political balance (i.e., more Democrats in office)?

Pignanelli: Even the most ardent partisan Republicans believe that more members of the loyal opposition in public office will foster greater discussion of ideas and diminish intraparty GOP squabbles. But the pursuit of political diversity of Utah is akin to "eating better." We have the best of intentions but consume gallons of Diet Coke and pounds of potato chips. Utahns express support for balance in government but overwhelmingly select candidates from one party. Democrats must find that low-calorie but delicious political candy to change the numbers.

Webb: When my Democratic friends can't win on the merits, they like to revert to the "balance" argument. But voters select the candidate they like best, usually in their own political party. They seldom vote for balance. So if Democrats really want more moderate politics in Utah, here's a bright idea (only half-jesting): Dissolve the Democratic Party. Dump it. Get rid of it. All Utah Democrats become Republicans. Then we would have liberal Republicans, moderate Republicans, mainstream conservative Republicans and arch-conservative Republicans. We would truly be a one-party state, but it would be a really big tent with a lot of factions.

Intra-party runoffs would determine winners. Liberal, moderate and mainstream Republicans would far outnumber arch-conservative Republicans. More moderate leaders would be elected. Some moderates now running as Democrats would have a much better chance running as Republicans, if all the liberal and moderate votes were also in the Republican Party.

Currently, moderates are divided. Some are in the Republican Party, outnumbered. And some are in the Democratic Party, voting for candidates who can't win. They can't combine to forge a majority. But if they, along with liberals, were voting in the Republican Party, they'd be a real force. We'd have a more moderate state. A more moderate Legislature. One-party rule isn't so bad if it isn't too extreme. You can get things done.

Utah's 4th Congressional District race is a bloody battleground with dueling polls and lots of negative campaigning. Who's winning?

3 comments on this story

Pignanelli: Polling experts are in a quandary: Jim Matheson and Mia Love exchange places almost daily over who is leading and usually by no more than 1 to 2 percentage points. Female voters in District 4 are switching allegiances with frequent regularity. Thus, Utahns will see more advertisements that feature women praising/criticizing Matheson/Love. This race will defy easy predictions until Election Night.

Webb: Lots of voters are disgusted with, and are tuning out, the negative advertising in the 4th District. With both sides (mostly outside PACs and independent groups) engaged in nasty advertising, voters aren't sure who to blame. The sympathy vote doesn't seem to be going one way or the other.

Republicans will be better organized and have a far bigger turnout. Matheson has to hope that many Republicans feel a need to vote for at least one Democrat. By most measures, Love should win.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: 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: