Stifling summer heat is here — weeks early. Heat stroke prevents us from focusing our feeble minds on one topic, so here’s a potpourri of issues in the news.

Former Utah House member Becky Edwards has kicked off a campaign for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination next year against Sen. Mike Lee. Club for Growth Action, a national conservative SuperPAC that has endorsed Lee, has already mailed attack ads against Edwards and Ally Isom, another potential opponent. Is this a smart strategy and is Lee vulnerable?

Pignanelli: “War has rules, mud wrestling has rules — politics has no rules.” — Ross Perot  

Mountains of dandruff were created by political operatives scratching their heads watching the tactics of this PAC. The entity is legally forbidden from coordinating with Lee’s campaign, which explains the confusing activities.

Of course, smart candidates define themselves and their opponents before the other side does. But precinct caucuses are scheduled for March. The convention and primary are a year away. Thus, the timeliness is questionable. The challengers were almost unknown, but the mailed literature has elevated their name identification, especially with the resulting buzz in traditional and social media. 

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Utah Sen. Mike Lee has a new challenger: former state lawmaker Becky Edwards

Lee is well financed and beloved among most GOP activists. But his Senate accomplishments are often ignored or vilified in the media. The PAC blundered by not highlighting Lee’s achievements to bolster support among the general population. Moreover, there are acres of fertile ground to plant seeds that Lee is the needed obstacle to liberal Democrats and a Biden administration. That helps him secure signatures for the petition and enhances fundraising capabilities.

This is another reminder that national PACs, either on the left or right, are usually clueless about local politics. They cause head scratching every year.

Webb: The truth is, it’s way too early to make any intelligent comments about this race. But I’m always willing to make unintelligent comments. Edwards is one of several Republicans thinking about challenging Lee for the GOP nomination. But Edwards is running a real campaign and the fact that Lee allies are already attacking her shows they take her seriously. But they’re increasing her visibility and generating some sympathy support for her. Lee ought to tell them to knock it off.

Lee does have some vulnerabilities. His overall job approval rating isn’t terribly high and his demeanor is more detached, scholarly and judicial than that of a charismatic rock star politician. 

Edwards’ problem is that this race is for the GOP nomination and Lee is popular with the Republican base. Lee is clearly the favorite in the GOP primary.

Much will depend on the national political climate. If the Biden administration and congressional Democrats continue their leftward tilt, Utah Republicans will want someone who will fight for conservative values and policies, not someone who takes moderate positions and pledges to bring everyone together.  

There has been a big uptick in crime across the country, especially gun violence. Is this a gun problem, or is it related to a shortage of police officers and poor law enforcement morale? Could this be a campaign issue?

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Pignanelli: Defying expectations, enhancing public safety, and supporting law enforcement are winning issues in the 2021 New York City mayoral election. One of the leading contenders is a former police captain.

Most major metropolitan areas, including those in Utah, are experiencing increases in crime. The variety of causes percolating in the post-pandemic environment will continue next year. This will create incredible anxiety for politicians on both sides. Special interest groups successfully pushed policymakers into a relaxation of containing criminal behavior.

Backtracking is already happening. This new dynamic will likely drive a much-needed practical re-examination of how justice is implemented.

Webb: This is a real problem and Democrats who are viewed as anti-police may be punished in 2022. Liberal Democrats tend to focus their wrath on police shootings and ignore the much greater violence occurring all across the country. Their solution is gun control, which is a distraction and scapegoat. They prefer not to deal with the root causes of violence. Officials could try to confiscate all the 350 million to 400 million guns in America and criminals would still be shooting people.

This is a potent campaign issue. Police officers are demoralized, recruitment is difficult, and retirement rates are accelerating. Police work has always been stressful and dangerous. But who would want to be part of the thin blue line in this atmosphere of disrespect, overzealous scrutiny and lack of support from policymakers?

Certainly, if cops violate laws they should be fired and prosecuted. But responsible and caring officers every day face the reality that a split-second decision in a criminal confrontation that they didn’t want or instigate might lead to scrutiny, trauma, community unrest and loss of job. That’s too much pressure on police officers.

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President Joe Biden has concluded his first international trip. He declared to America’s European allies that, “America is back at the table,” and his interactions were much cozier than those of his predecessor. How will Utah’s congressional delegation respond to “less drama” in U.S. foreign relations?

Pignanelli: For generations, Utahns were rightfully suspicious of authoritarian regimes. Hopefully the rhetoric will be now matched by legislative actions as our senators and representatives demand a stronger approach to those countries wishing us harm.

Webb: Biden enjoyed a love fest with European allies and the news media covering his trip. He had some “senior moments” when he had a hard time communicating, but I admit it was more comfortable to see a normalization of foreign relations after President Trump’s “America first” policies. But Utah’s delegation should provide oversight to ensure that other nations don’t take advantage of Biden’s kinder, gentler approach.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. 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.

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