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Frank R. Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb: Will nasty ads in 3rd District drag down John Curtis?

John Curtis, Tanner Ainge and Chris Herrod appear in the Republican debate for the 3rd Congressional District race at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo on Friday, July 28, 2017.
John Curtis, Tanner Ainge and Chris Herrod appear in the Republican debate for the 3rd Congressional District race at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Because we are sensitive to the tender feelings of our readers, we try to avoid the carnage in Washington, D.C. So this week we focus on two topics that did not originate in the Oval Office or the Rose Garden. But, of course, we can’t escape the Washington merry-go-round entirely.

With a little more than a week before the Aug. 15 3rd Congressional District primary election, how is the race shaping up? Are the many negative ads targeting Provo Mayor John Curtis hurting his candidacy? Did the visit by Sen. Ted Cruz help Chris Herrod? Is Tanner Ainge performing as expected?

Pignanelli: "I don't think anybody deserves to be defined totally by his enemies." — Steve Kroft

In this increasingly nasty and weird three-way primary, politicos do not need polls to determine who is leading. The aggressive actions of the campaigns and outside special-interest groups signal Curtis is the front-runner. Several ultra-conservative SuperPACs have focused their guns on the Provo mayor, who is without a PAC to fire back. When cobbled together, the strange negative attack ads condemn Curtis as a profligate lizard dressed in hipster clothing.

Insiders believe the ugly dumping is working (negative ads usually do) thereby tightening the distance between Curtis and Herrod. Further, the Cruz rally was well timed when voters received their ballots in the mail-a shrewd move by Herrod. Ainge is still an unknown.

The other dynamic is the D.C. swamp. Voters are legitimately frustrated with congressional Republicans who failed to repeal Obamacare and enact tax reform. This will likely impact the results.

National pundits will analyze the race as an indicator of GOP grumpiness and potential indicator for 2018 Republican primaries. So characterizing your opponent as a reptile may be the new campaign tactic.

Webb: One really good reason to vote for Curtis is that his opponents and their supporters are pounding him with negative advertising. Dragging someone else down isn’t the best way to win the respect of Utah voters.

This race will be determined by turnout in a midsummer vacation period when few people are thinking about politics. Herrod’s hardcore conservative supporters will certainly vote. So Curtis must turn out his mainstream voters in large numbers. Cruz’ appearance for Herrod is a nice reminder that we don’t need more arch-conservative ideologues in Congress who believe purity is a higher priority than solving problems.

Ainge is, no doubt, a bright and capable young man who could have a future in politics if he doesn’t burn too many bridges with his attacks.

Curtis has built goodwill in Provo City over eight years as mayor, and has also won the admiration and support of business leaders and mainstream Republicans across the state. His campaign organization is capable of turning out his supporters.

A recent poll shows that almost two-thirds of Utahns have a favorable perception of Gov. Gary Herbert. In this era of negativity and cynicism toward government and politicians, how does Herbert maintain strong popularity?

Pignanelli: The governor is riding a strong Utah economy with a workforce that is dedicated, educated and committed. But Utahns also correctly perceive the governor as a decent person. Republican and Democrat opponents spent millions trying to paint him otherwise, to no avail.

As a county commissioner and then lieutenant governor, Herbert garnered a reputation that no meeting of citizens was beneath him. Further, as governor he continues a practice learned in lower offices — be prepared and engaged when meeting with constituents, business bigwigs, community and political leaders.

Even in the Trump era, nice guys can finish first.

Webb: Utahns like a solid, stable, pragmatic, father figure as their governor. But that’s only part of Herbert’s success. While he has enjoyed the good fortune of a strong economy, when he became governor the economy was struggling. Strong economies don’t occur by luck or chance. Herbert and his team, along with the Legislature, have worked incredibly hard to create an environment where businesses can succeed and create jobs.

Herbert may not be flashy, but he has been a lot more than a caretaker governor. The state is in good hands.

With General John Kelly as chief of staff, will the White House function more smoothly, or will the drama continue?

Pignanelli: As a defender of obnoxious, hand-waving, politically minded Italians, I am saddened by the demise of Anthony Scaramucci (the loss of potential entertainment is appalling). If Trump sticks to the deal he obviously made with Kelly, his administration may achieve notable accomplishments. If a frustrated Kelly leaves in the next several months, the swamp will prevent Trump finishing his term.

Webb: Kelly can hopefully bring some order to the White House. But Trump is congenitally unable to resist pointless controversy, provocative comments and off-message tweets. So get some popcorn and pull up a chair. The fun will persist.

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 the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: