With the campaign season in full swing, a number of legislative elections are capturing the attention of political observers. These contests will have important results, not just for the political parties but for the Legislature and county governments. We'll highlight a few of these races today and more in coming weeks.

Senate District 4 — Patricia Jones vs. Dirk Anjewierden. When we last wrote about this east bench (Holladay, Millcreek, Murray) Senate seat, things were at a mild simmer. The battle is now at a raging boil. When the popular Patrice Arent announced her retirement, many assumed Jones would easily fill the vacancy. However, the gregarious and articulate Anjewierden has launched an aggressive campaign focused on his membership in the majority party and his knowledge of health-care issues. GOP insiders are steering financial and technical campaign resources to Anjewierden because he offers a real shot to recapture the district. Anjewierden is an attractive moderate Republican with a pleasant personality who — under different circumstances — would be the front-runner. But Jones is taking nothing for granted. She is a formidable candidate — experienced, mainstream, successful businesswoman, intelligent and charismatic. She has promoted tax reform, education funding and health issues, and she commands bipartisan respect (her brochure has a preapproved picture of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.). Both candidates have aggressive campaigns, and this contest will be the most watched, and most expensive, this year.

Senate District 18 — Jon J. Greiner vs. Stuart Reid. After incumbent David Thomas lost the GOP primary, most politicos concluded that Democrat Reid would have insurmountable difficulty against Greiner, the popular Ogden police chief. But Reid has developed a feisty grass-roots campaign. In the meantime, Greiner has been dogged with bad publicity over law enforcement issues in Ogden. Related to some of Utah's leading families, Greiner is well-connected in the Weber area. Reid is a former Salt Lake City Council member who opposed Rocky Anderson for mayor (qualifying Reid for sainthood in most areas of the state). He relocated his significant development and deal-making talents to Ogden. The outcome of this race will likely be decided in north Davis County, where neither candidate holds a natural advantage.

House District 37 — Carol Spackman Moss vs. Sandy Thackeray. Through her 32-year career as a beloved teacher, Moss has taught many of the residents in this Holladay Millcreek area — a powerful political asset. In addition, Moss is a fearsome campaigner in the traditional door-to-door style. Her Republican opponent, Thackeray, is well-known from her service on the Holladay City Council and started her campaign early. The school choice organization Parents for Choice in Education has targeted the race and is infusing its traditional aggressive tactics in behalf of Thackeray. This promises to be a tough battle until the end.

We also asked the two state party executive directors, Todd Taylor for the Democrats and Jeff Hartley for the Republicans, to make their predictions about the overall outcome of the legislative races.

Hartley is optimistic, predicting a Republican pickup of seven seats in the House and three in the Senate, "reserving the right to amend our prediction upward as Election Day approaches." The Republican brain trust has a "watch list" of 11 House races and six Senate races that it is vigorously contesting to retain or pick up.

Hartley said he was asked by a newspaper reporter if the GOP, holding two-thirds majorities, doesn't already have a big enough presence in the Legislature. "It's not about world domination for us, it's about having better representatives for the voters in these districts," he said. "We have good people emerging as great candidates who would serve their constituents very well."

Taylor was a little more circumspect: "I'm not a bookie or odds maker. One of my favorite cliches is, 'He who lives by the crystal ball eats ground glass."' But given the national political scene, the climate for Democrats may be the best in Utah since 1990, he said.

Still, with six of eight Democratic Senate seats up for re-election and two Senate incumbents retiring, "We are pushing uphill," Taylor said. "Unfortunately, this leaves us playing defense in a year when we should be able to seek solid gains. The wind at our backs should help us defend what we currently have and make us competitive in a few more seats — perhaps as many as four. Personally, I'd like to see at least a gain of two to bring us up over the magic one-third. ..."

Taylor sees more opportunities for gains in the House, but he must also defend five open seats. "I'd like to see a gain of six to bring us to one-third, but that is a very tall order. ... We have enough 'hard worker' candidates to give us reason for hope."

Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A former candidate for Salt Lake mayor, he served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. Pignanelli's spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.