Political observers have been intently focused on the activities of the 2024 Utah legislative session, which adjourned on Friday. But all eyes will rapidly turn to the March 5 “Super Tuesday,” in which 16 states, including Utah, will hold primaries or caucuses to determine delegate allocation for the summer presidential conventions. We take a look.

On Tuesday, participants in Republican precinct caucuses will vote for their favorite presidential candidate. Forty delegates are up for grabs. As of the writing of this column, Nikki Haley was the only remaining serious competition against front-runner Donald Trump. What is likely to happen?

Pignanelli: “We know the contours of this divide inside the Republican Party. It’s a divided party. It’s just not evenly divided.” — Chuck Todd, NBC News

Veteran electioneering observers (better described as “political hacks”) crave the thrills of campaigns. Even when little is expected, we do not hesitate to create some excitement. The preeminent polling analyzer 538.com combined recent national surveys and former President Donald Trump leads 77.8% to Nikki Haley’s 16%. A mid-January Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll pegs Utah support at 49% for Trump and 22% for Haley. Thus, our state could deliver an upset or close race. (My attempt to foster anticipation!)

Haley’s campaign tactic is highlighting that voters want neither Trump nor Biden, positioning her as the alternate to geriatric opponents. Conspiracy theorists might suggest she is prolonging her fledgling candidacy until the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s ballot eligibility, just in case the Republicans are without an eligible candidate. Yet, many high-profile Utahns, including Gov. Spencer Cox, have expressed support for Haley. She will likely have a strong performance in the Beehive State.

The other dynamic is that the lack of choices on either the Democrat or Republican ballot is disappointing. Voters like options and reject coronations. Could this spur a protest vote from either party’s caucus attendees?

These political pontificators will have popcorn in hand on caucus night to see what drama may unfold, and especially if we helped to create it.

Related
Opinion: Does Nikki Haley have a chance in Utah?

Webb: Trump is going to win handily, especially because the Utah Republican Party chose the caucus process, rather than a primary election, to make the selection. But I’m glad Haley has hung in there, at least through Super Tuesday. Trump is so mercurial and has so much legal and other baggage that something crazy could still happen. Republicans need an alternative if Trump falters.

The tragedy of Trump (well, one of the tragedies) is that he so unnecessarily alienates mainstream members of his own party (like me). He’s going to need those Haley voters. His election against President Joe Biden is threatened because of stupid behavior and character flaws that could so easily have been avoided. He only needed to be a little less of a junior high school bully, less of a philanderer, and acknowledge reality (like, “Yes, I did lose in 2020″). I know that’s a lot to ask of Trump, but most normal people actually prefer their leaders to be respectable. Biden is so old and disliked that Trump could easily cruise to a win if he displayed a little humanity. He could still be tough and shake things up, but just don’t be such an egomaniac.

The precinct caucus attendees will also elect county and state delegates, who will later determine convention outcomes for many federal, statewide and local races, including U.S. Senate, Congress, state Legislature, school boards, county leaders, etc. How will the presidential preferences impact these delegates?

Pignanelli: Trump is expending minimal effort recruiting caucus supporters because he correctly analyzed Utah GOP delegates are typically fairly far right of center, and likely support him. Candidates usually self-filter to obtain best odds for success. Strong conservatives try their fate with equally purist county or state delegates. More moderate candidates “Skip Go” and proceed straight to the primary (but without “Collecting $200″ and just the requisite number of signatures to qualify for the ballot).

Webb: The GOP presidential preference vote may boost caucus attendance and delegates selected may tilt even more toward Trump-like populist conservativism. They may be more anti-immigrant and isolationist, for example.

Delegates are very important, because they will determine winners at state and county conventions that will quickly follow. But, happily, state and local candidates will also be able to get on the primary election ballot by gathering signatures, so not all candidates on the primary ballot will be selected by delegates. Many signature-gathering candidates in recent years have soundly defeated convention-only candidates in primary elections — when all Republicans get to vote. Thank you, Count My Vote.

Democrats will also be holding the presidential primary election on Tuesday. Any surprises?

Pignanelli: Pop quiz: Who is on the Democratic primary ballot? Answer: Doesn’t matter. Joe Biden gets over 95% and Dean Phillips may come in second at 3%.

Webb: Democrats have no realistic alternative at this point except to choose Biden as their nominee. The Biden/Trump general election mud bath will demonstrate quite conclusively how messed up national politics is in the good old USA.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that Gov. Spencer Cox had publicly endorsed Nikki Haley, but previous Deseret News reporting states he has not publicly endorsed any candidate.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.