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It’s the dog days of summer, and these political topics are just as hot

SHARE It’s the dog days of summer, and these political topics are just as hot

Jenny Gelwix, a third grade teacher at Eastwood Elementary in Salt Lake City, joins other Granite School District teachers, staff and supporters in a protest outside of the district office in South Salt Lake on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

We are officially suffering through the dog days of summer. The warmer weather and even hotter political confrontations could impact elections less than 90 days away. Hopefully, our nifty analysis will bring cool relief.

Political observers were surprised that a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showed a tie between Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican challenger Burgess Owens (35% each, 24% undecided) in the 4th District. Is this result signifying a Republican trend?

Pignanelli: “The coronavirus could not have emerged at a worse time … amid a heated presidential election built upon months of vitriol, accusations, and competitiveness —Eduardo J. Gómez and Sandro Galea, professors of public health   

Disease alters politics. This lesson from the 1918 pandemic is instructive again in 2020. Then, the party controlling Congress (Democrats) suffered a beating in the wartime midterm elections and the GOP assumed control of both houses, which had not occurred since 1908. Similar elements are in play 102 years later. This summer, numerous incumbents faced fierce internal party challenges — some did not prevail.

There is intense unease as Americans endure economic uncertainty, massive protests and a relentless virus. So, as Congress continues to fruitlessly dally on economic assistance packages, voters’ angst is reflected towards pollsters and in the polls.

This is likely happening in the 4th Congressional District. The fact McAdams won by a slim margin against a tough incumbent does not explain the current status of the race. McAdams garners high approval ratings and is aggressive in demanding government integrity. He should be in a stronger position against an unknown challenger.

Other unpublicized research is revealing similar results. So, both national parties will dump resources into the race. McAdams needs to demonstrate he abhors the ridiculous wrangling happening in Washington DC. Burgess, possessing a great personal story, must make it relatable to today’s events.

Since the federal government is split, candidates in both parties should heed the lessons of 1918.

Webb: These survey results are surprising because Burgess isn’t well known and tends to be a bit too far right for the 4th District. McAdams is well-liked and his Democratic Party affiliation hasn’t seemed to bother voters in the past. So it’s possible that this survey is an outlier. Additional polling is needed to confirm the status of this race.

It’s also possible that voters are “nationalizing” this race as Republicans hope they will. I believe a majority of Utah voters aren’t excited about Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer taking over the Congress and taking it far to the left. The result will be even bigger government and higher taxes. That’s a strong argument against sending a Democrat (McAdams) to Congress to help ensure a Democratic majority.

However, most Utah voters don’t nationalize these contests. They vote for the local candidate they like most and don’t worry about the national ramifications. Further survey research is needed to get a real handle on this race. 

The protests in the streets have transformed into intense arguments over schools. The Hinckley Institute/Deseret News Poll indicates 48% of Utahns want schools open while 31% demand closure. Will the fight over real or virtual classrooms impact elections?

Pignanelli: This is a true no-win scenario. If there are outbreaks after schools are open —over the objections of teachers — many officials will face intense scrutiny. But if schools are closed, and students remain healthy (which we hope), then haggled parents may seek vengeance in November for over-caution. Candidates must be careful and strive to demonstrate sensitivity to all concerns. Blustery one-sided statements could be fatal.

Webb: I strongly believe the default position should be that schools open and students get back in class. There are variations and combinations, of course, and parents should have flexibility to send their children to school or use remote learning or home-schooling.

I personally believe the damage caused by keeping students home is greater than the risk of opening schools. Keeping schools closed is an education concern, an economic concern and a mental health concern, as well as a health issue.

There will still be a substantial amount of online learning, and perhaps teachers who are at health risk, or who don’t want to return to the classroom, can handle those duties. However, at some point some teachers may have to make a choice to stay in the profession or not. A national publication recently published an article by an ICU nurse who said she’s been on the job every day at great risk to herself and her family — and teachers should feel the same obligation. 

In Utah, coronavirus case counts are dropping but deaths are increasing. Where does this push political activism?

Pignanelli: During the 1918 pandemic, Americans who protested mandates while doubting the need for the protective garment, established “Anti-mask Leagues.” Because overall numbers are dropping and fatalities are overwhelmingly relegated to an older and compromised population, similar organizations may pop up this year.

Webb: We need to realize that we all are going to have to settle in for the long haul to combat COVID-19, while saving the economy. It’s not going to be over in a few months. The more we’re willing to cooperate, compromise a bit and follow good health protocols, the better off we’ll all be.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: frankp@xmission.com.