Last month, Gov. Gary Herbert invited a number of business leaders and politicos to breakfast and revealed he intends to seek re-election in 2016. The governor, along with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, made it clear it was not a formal campaign announcement. But the event raises a number of interesting questions.
If Herbert is running, why didn’t he just announce it and start campaigning? Why choose an unusual forum to release this news?
Pignanelli: “It is a great act of cleverness to be able to conceal one's being clever.” — Francois Rochefoucauld As a "political insider" who attended, I too was initially confused as to the purpose of the event. Eventually, this dullard realized the informal breakfast strategy was a very shrewd maneuver. By postponing a formal announcement until next year, the governor and his staff are not burdened with the baggage normally associated with a campaign. Yet, the world learned of the governor’s intentions anyway because most of the breakfast attendees were obnoxious gossip hounds (especially me) who cherished the opportunity to tell everyone. Also, several seasoned campaign operatives were included, so they could receive the non-subtle message not to stray from the Herbert camp. Beloved businessman and philanthropist Scott Anderson — in his personal appeal for Herbert’s re-election — delivered the coup de grâce. This signaled approval by the establishment of Herbert’s cause. As an added bonus, the "non-announcement announcement" will thwart large donors from considering other candidates.
The governor accomplished his mission without the nuisance of a press conference. Well done.
Webb: It has been widely expected that Herbert will run again, so the announcement was not a big surprise. But by making it official more than two years before the 2016 election, Herbert obviously wanted to dash the hopes and shut down fundraising of potential opponents, and not allow his supporters to stray to other candidates. It was a signal to business and opinion leaders to stick with him because he’s going to be the governor for the next six years.
Utah is leading the country in economic development and favorable business climate. Some polls show Herbert is the most popular governor in the nation. Is there any chance he does not get re-elected in 2016?
Pignanelli: Insiders joke that when two or more Republicans bump into each other on Main Street and start chatting, the governor may join them. This reflects the reality no one has worked harder in the GOP trenches through attending thousands of tiresome events around the state. Herbert has some detractors who grumble he cannot make a decision or push a plan of action. Because no examples of such indecisiveness or poor planning have been articulated, Utahns hold a positive view of Herbert.
Thus barring a major recession or mistake, the governor will enjoy a strong wind at his back through the next election.
Webb: The knock on Herbert is that he is a “caretaker” governor — that he’s a good guy and competent manager, but he’s not a visionary or “big idea” chief executive. He hasn’t done the hard things to attack Utah’s biggest problems like education funding and infrastructure needs, and he hasn’t even provided forceful leadership on energy development and public lands issues. He has ridden Utah’s natural stability, conservatism and pro-business environment that have always produced a solid economy and good quality of life. So he has high approval ratings. But other than holding a lot of summits and organizing numerous commissions and task forces, he hasn’t been a dynamic governor who has pushed the envelope.
There is some truth in those criticisms. But Herbert is a likeable guy, the state is doing well, Utahns are happy, and Herbert will have a ton of money to spend on his campaign. So he’s clearly the odds-on favorite to win.
What are the prospects of potential Herbert opponents like Congressman Jim Matheson, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, and Overstock Chairman Jonathan Johnson.
Pignanelli: Because of his immense skills, Matheson will be pressured to run. But does he really want to launch a statewide campaign immediately after retirement from Congress? Although Lockhart is retiring from the Legislature, there will be opportunities for her to remind politicos of her leadership and courage. If Herbert inadvertently allows an opening, she (and Johnson) will run through it.
Webb: Herbert will likely face some legitimate opponents, not just fringe candidates. Lockhart and Johnson will likely run, although Lockhart’s star has faded somewhat since the legislative session. She will have to figure out how to maintain a high profile once she retires from the Legislature.
Johnson has indicated he’s running regardless of who is in the race. He brings significant financial resources and he’s hard to pigeonhole. He offers an interesting mix of conservative/libertarian politics, and he’s been active on air-quality issues and immigration reform. He will be a “big idea” candidate.
Matheson may not run for anything, but if he wants to re-enter politics in 2016 he will have to decide between the governorship and the U.S. Senate, running against Sen. Mike Lee. Herbert is likely a tougher opponent than Lee, but Utahns may not want to send a Democrat to the Senate if control of the Senate is up for grabs.
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 a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. E-mail:[email protected].