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Pignanelli and Webb: The latest gossip on three big races

Congressman Ben McAdams speaks to members of the media after holding a town hall meeting to familiarize constituents with district office staff as well as to provide an opportunity for McAdams to listen to Utahans on issues that are important to them at t
Congressman Ben McAdams speaks to members of the media after holding a town hall meeting to familiarize constituents with district office staff as well as to provide an opportunity for McAdams to listen to Utahns on issues that are important to them at the Redwood Recreation Center in West Valley City on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

Pignanelli & Webb: Politics and gossip are like bread and butter — they just go together really well. Your columnists like both (especially with a little honey), so we hereby deliver the latest hearsay and rumors about upcoming political races.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is still smarting from the defeat of Congresswoman Mia Love in Utah’s 4th Congressional District at the hands of Democrat Ben McAdams. The district leans Republican, and McAdams is being targeted in 2020. He’s a tough campaigner, but is he vulnerable?

“Maybe instead of asking political candidates to submit tax returns, we really should be asking to see their brain scans.” — Daniel Levitin.

National Republicans focused a lot of resources protecting the 4th District in 2018, so the loss was bitter and recapturing the seat is a priority.

Some GOP insiders are suggesting state lawmakers as natural candidates to take on McAdams. Among those mentioned by the “great mentioners” are Sen. Dan McCay (Riverton), Rep. Kim Coleman (West Jordan), Rep. Ken Ivory (West Jordan), Sen. Diedre Henderson (Spanish Fork) and Sen. Dan Hemmert (Orem). And might Love return for a rematch? Who knows.

Not all of those prospective candidates live in the 4th District. But because McAdams himself lives outside the district boundaries, Republicans have the luxury of shopping for candidates almost anywhere in the state.

McAdams is obviously not taking anything for granted. He is maintaining a frenetic pace of fundraising and constituent events. He’s a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats, and is working hard to distance himself from his leftist colleagues. He even endorsed a conservative priority by introducing a balanced budget constitutional amendment (which caused apoplexy among liberal Democrats who accused him of pandering).

4th District voters lean Republican, but are obviously willing to vote for a mainstream Democrat. If Republicans nominate a far-right candidate who can’t appeal to moderate Republicans and independents, they will hand the likeable, hard-working McAdams a reelection victory. It will take a top-notch Republican candidate to reclaim the seat.

The 2020 gubernatorial race has become even more intriguing with the possible entry of Ambassador (and former governor) Jon Huntsman Jr. He joins a long list of possible contenders, including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Atty. Gen. Sean Reyes, former House Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton, former Miller Group CEO Greg Miller, Utah County businessman Jeff Burningham, former Congressman Jason Chaffetz Republican National Committee member and former Utah GOP chair Thomas Wright, Congressman Rob Bishop, and possibly others. What’s the early thinking?

A lot of fine candidates are on that list. Huntsman, Chaffetz and Cox enjoy the best name ID, which provides a bit of an advantage. But voters might be in the mood for a fresh face who has an exciting vision for the state. A common theme will be taking the state to a new level.

A majority of Utah governors did not come from another elected position. Instead they were prominent within the legal or business communities. Other business executives may join in this list by the fall.

The last time there was a field this large was in 2004, when party convention delegates narrowed the long list of nominees down to two — Jon Huntsman and Nolan Karras.

But most of the 2020 candidates are likely to try secure placement on the ballot through the signature process, resulting in a very large primary ballot. This dynamic dramatically changes traditional strategies and may provide opportunities for candidates who can secure a small but energized niche of the electorate. Some candidates may be maneuvering for a lieutenant governor slot. Expect social media to play an increasingly large role in this election.

The field of competitors for Salt Lake City mayor is large. The list currently includes Stan Penfold, David Ibarra, David Garbett, James Dabakis, Christian Harrison, Erin Mendenhall and Luz Escamilla. What’s the inside skinny?

City politicos agree that the Dabakis starts with an advantage because of name identification and popularity within powerful constituencies. But there is also a general question of whether he can remain focused and not be distracted.

With so many solid candidates, relatively few votes will be needed to emerge from the primary election. Most candidates will seize upon the strategy utilized by former Mayor Ralph Becker, who targeted voters within his legislative district, turning them out en masse.

But with so many candidates, each appealing to a natural constituency, the two primary survivors may have to go beyond their usual supporters and poach from other candidates. Watch for various interest groups, including city business leaders, to coalesce around candidates they think can win. Voter turnout will be key.

It will be a contest of smart and innovative strategy, hard work, organizational and operational proficiency, fundraising capability and communications prowess.

With an August primary less than five months away, the most competent candidates will rise to the top.