For many reasons, the Republican primary election on Tuesday will be unique, historic — and very important. Here’s a glimpse of what to expect, watch and otherwise enjoy as election results roll in.
How will a multitude of dynamics (pandemic, economic crisis, Trump, new voters, protests, etc.) impact the gubernatorial primary?
Pignanelli: “It’s never been clearer that the country needs to be able to vote by mail. Utah shows the way … how to save elections from a pandemic.”— Eric Cortellessa, Washington Monthly
A free electron is an unattached particle that is free to move under the influence of external forces, oftentimes with unpredictable observations. The difficult to predict 2020 primary is similar in nature — unbound by traditional political constraints while affected by external pressures. The unprecedented horde of Utahns switching registration status to participate in the primary will be analyzed for many years. Meanwhile, a multitude of conjectures will flourish as to how this strong but unusual element played a role in the results.
The pandemic is percolating fears that will also be reflected voters’ choices. Jobs, health care, schools and return to a normal lifestyle will be considerations when marking a ballot. This is substituting for the usual ideological arguments that occur in a primary contest. Equally important, the coronavirus has incentivized thousands to participate in a partisan contest they would have ignored in other years.
Hopefully, there will not be a repeat of the difficult environment surrounding this election in future elections. But the campaign tactics used by candidates’ campaign, especially because of the limitations mandated by social distancing, will affect politics for generations. Our elections have forever been altered; we just do not know how yet.
Free electrons are strange things but an integral element of nature. Similarly, elections in difficult times are a necessary fundamental of democracy.
Webb: Utah is in uncharted territory holding hotly contested multi-candidate primary elections amid a global pandemic crisis, civil unrest, and an economic meltdown. Candidates have had to reinvent how to connect with voters.
I subscribe to the conventional wisdom (and polling indications) that Spencer Cox and Jon Huntsman Jr. are locked in a very close race that could go either way. Utah can’t lose, because either candidate will be a very fine governor.
Greg Hughes and Thomas Wright are also solid candidates who have run good races with sufficient funding. Politics is all about timing, and while this election may not be their time, they both could have bright political futures. It’s also possible Hughes will do better than expected on Tuesday if the conservative vote turns out strongly.
As the frontrunner for most of the campaign, Cox has had a target on his back. His state pandemic response leadership cuts both ways. Utah leaders won praise for the state’s initial response, but as the health and economic crises wear on, voters are getting grumpy and those in charge get the blame.
Personally, I think Gov. Herbert and Cox have dealt superbly with the multiple crises facing the state. It’s always easy to criticize from the cheap seats. It’s a lot tougher to be on the field throwing strikes and balls — and the inevitable wild pitch.
Huntsman, with his immense stature, should be walking away with this race. He is likely the biggest beneficiary of voters crossing party lines and registering as Republicans.
It’s going to be fun to watch!
Will other primary elections also feel the effects of these and other dynamics?
Pignanelli: Politicos will be fascinated by the effects of the new voters on the down ballot races, including the other statewide race for attorney general. There has been limited campaigning by the contestants — especially in comparison to other matches. So do voters rely upon the incumbency of Sean Reyes or the fresh face of David Leavitt, brother of a former governor?
The four-way contests for Congress in the 1st and 4th districts have been aggressive battles, but the new crop of voters will be the quiet determinants of results. Almost a dozen incumbent lawmakers are facing intraparty challenges. But the otherwise controversial issue of tax reform maybe be diluted by the newcomers with other agendas.
Webb: I wouldn’t dare to predict the outcomes of the two congressional races, featuring mostly unknown candidates. One certainty is that the Republican who wins the 4th District race will face the unenviable task of taking on the very popular incumbent Democrat Ben McAdams.
The attorney general race has been the most negative of all the contests, and it could be close. Leavitt has a great platform as a criminal justice reformer, but it’s a hard case to make with conservative primary election voters.
Is there a potential for major surprises?
Pignanelli: One of the federal and legislative battles could emit a surprise that few hypothesized.
Webb: Even in ordinary times, primary elections are notoriously unpredictable because turnout is capricious. The winners will be those who ran strong grassroots campaigns and got their supporters to the polls.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.