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Will Utahns march to their party caucuses this week?

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Democratic political caucuses, precinct 2422, meet at Chapman Library on March 25, 2002 in Salt lake City, Utah.

Democratic political caucuses, precinct 2422, meet at Chapman Library on March 25, 2002 in Salt lake City, Utah.

Deseret News archives

Super Tuesday is over and the GOP nomination race slogs on with Mitt Romney leading, but unable to knock out his opponents. How are these contests and other national events impacting local politics?

Pignanelli: "It is dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember." — Sen. Eugene McCarthy. All the goofiness on the national scene is likely to prompt greater attendance in our local precinct caucuses. Utah Republicans are frustrated that their adopted favorite son Mitt Romney cannot seal the deal against the strangest trio of major party presidential contenders in the history of the republic. (Utahns are suspicious of Newt Gingrich, aghast at Rick Santorum's 15th century philosophies and befuddled with Ron Paul's isolationism.)

In response to this urge and the promptings of local candidates, these politicos will march to the neighborhood caucuses in order to commiserate with like-minded participants. Likewise, Democrats will be invigorated by conflicted emotions. Angry at the stupid outbursts of right-wingers (i.e. Rush Limbaugh's outrageous slander against a college student expressing her opinion on contraceptives), and delighted at the prospect of Santorum on the national ticket, Democrats will also want to have a moment of revelry with colleagues at the caucuses.

These recent dynamics will continue this year and further push greater participation in Utah politics. The antics may be ridiculous, but the means justify the end result of greater involvement.

Webb: It's a long shot, but the long and winding primary could actually make Utah a player in the GOP nomination fight. Utah has the last presidential primary in the nation, on June 26, and if Romney doesn't have the 1,144 votes to win the nomination, it could all come down to Utah. That would generate massive national attention.

It would also motivate enormous numbers of Utahns to register as Republicans so they can vote in the Republican primary. This would all be bad news for Democrats. It's more likely, however, that the nomination battle will be over before Utahns get a chance to vote.

It's also possible that the presidential primary could severely dampen Republican enthusiasm in Utah, giving a boost to Democrats. If Romney somehow loses the nomination, especially if national Republicans reject him, in part, because of his Mormon religion, then a lot of Utahns will be dispirited, perhaps even very angry at the Republican Party in general.

Party precinct caucuses are coming up Tuesday (for Democrats) and Thursday (for Republicans) this week. Why should Utahns attend, and can they make a difference?

Pignanelli: Readers are encouraged to attend — but with the right attitude. Participating in a caucus should be approached with the same anticipation one expects in watching primetime TV — you will be entertained but not educated. GOP attendees will be drenched with ovations of threats against the Constitution by the socialist Obama administration while Democrats will drown in speeches alternating between right-wing conspiracies and the praise for recycling. The real fun is to discover the dark political beliefs your neighbors harbor. Of course, all readers of this column are intelligent, enlightened and possess a strong determination to perform civic good. Therefore, your attendance at the caucuses is imperative to provide necessary guidance to those of lesser abilities (aka nonreaders of this column).

Webb: Attending your party caucus is as important as voting. You can't say you've done your civic duty if you don't attend your caucus. One of the weaknesses of the caucus system is that those who traditionally attend don't represent mainstream Utah. Survey research shows significantly more extremism and far-left and far-right views among caucus attendees and those they elect as delegates, compared to the general public.

Thus, if you are a mainstream Utahn and you want your views reflected in delegate selection, party candidates and in public policy adopted by our elected officials, then you should attend your caucus and vote accordingly. It all starts at the caucus.

The Legislature has concluded and Utah lawmakers will face political activists in caucuses and conventions over the next few weeks. How did the focus on party caucuses impact the legislative session?

Pignanelli: Every official/candidate facing an election in 2012 has been nervous about "those delegates" for months — legislators were no exception. Smart politicians must have a caucus strategy, which explains legislation and speeches that appealed to various constituencies that are well-organized and expected to participate with vigor in the caucuses (aka "extremists").

Webb: I have been bragging about our Republican legislators all session, noting that they haven't been intimidated by the far right, by worries about upcoming caucuses or past convention demands — especially regarding immigration issues.

But then they had to botch it up and open themselves to criticism as stereotypical right-wing extremists by voting to ban sex education in schools except for abstinence programs. I live in downtown Salt Lake City, and I guarantee that the kids in the inner-city neighborhoods, mostly latchkey kids with only one parent who barely copes with life, will still learn about sex. But they'll learn it on the streets or in the back seat of a car in a dark alley, rather than from a professional who helps them understand the facts of life in a straightforward way, helping them avoid pregnancy, AIDS, and shattered dreams.

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