Editor’s note: This column has been updated from the print version to reflect recent events.

Pignanelli & Webb: Technically, 2023 is on “off-year” election because the big presidential, federal and statewide races will occur next year. But this is highly misleading, as voters will select hundreds of municipal leaders in November this year. In addition, many of the 2024 races are already heating up and most key decisions for 2024 will be made this year.

In fact, decisions made by politicians in the next 90 days will reverberate from the smallest town hall all the way to Washington, D.C. We explain why the summer of ’23 is a big deal in politics.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” — Theodore Roosevelt

U.S. Senate: Sen. Mitt Romney should win the “Most inscrutable politician of the 21st century” award. There are plenty of guesses but no real solid leads as to whether Utah’s junior senator will pursue reelection. However, Republican opponents are already gearing up to take him on. Romney’s decision in the next few months will impact not only his race, but the candidate makeup in other contests, the demeanor of political conventions, the primary elections, the general election and possibly presidential politics (with Trump likely to oppose Romney). So, this is a decision to watch.

Second Congressional District: Rep. Chris Stewart shocked the Utah political world with his resignation announcement in the middle of this term. Even the deepest of insiders expected his departure within the next several weeks and wondered when he would make his intentions known. Stewart didn’t keep everyone guessing for very long. He sent a formal letter of resignation to the governor on Tuesday, stating he will leave Congress on Sept. 15. That triggered a flurry of activity by the governor and Legislature. They have indicated a special primary election to replace Stewart will be held Sept. 5, with a final election on Nov. 21. A special session to facilitate these dates will be held June 14. Stewart’s quick decision means the many candidates seeking to replace him can go forward with their campaigns. And the process is in place to avoid a lengthy vacancy for his seat.  

Poll: Do Utah voters want Mitt Romney to run for reelection in 2024?
Opinion: Who will replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress?

Governor’s race: Gov. Spencer Cox enjoys an approval rating of at least 63% among Utahns. Any Republican or Democrat thinking of undertaking the herculean effort to dislodge him should announce soon in order to be taken seriously.

Other statewide offices: Attorney General Sean Reyes has toyed with both a U.S. Senate and a gubernatorial bid. He is popular in the GOP and enjoys name recognition. But he will have to determine his plans soon, especially if he wishes to groom a successor. Utah’s state auditor and state treasurer will also need to make their plans known to scare off potential challengers.

Most Utah municipalities: The candidate filing deadline for many Utah cities was June 7, triggering primary elections on Aug. 15. The decisions made by voters will impact the final election on Nov. 7. The Utah municipal election is actually larger than even-year general elections, as measured by the number of candidates and the number of government entities involved.

Ranked choice voting: A dozen Utah cities have selected ranked choice voting as the means of determining their city leaders, including Millcreek, Genola, Salt Lake City, Midvale, Payson, Vineyard, South Salt Lake, Heber City, Kearns, Lehi, Woodland Hills and Magna.

The ranked choice voting cities will not have a primary election, and the filing deadline is Aug. 15. So prospective candidates have real decisions to make in the next several weeks. How do they campaign to be both the first- and second-place favorites among voters, when their opposition is yet to be defined? The messaging strategy they choose will have an impact on the ultimate outcomes.

This will be especially interesting in Salt Lake City‘s mayoral race, which features only two major candidates — incumbent Mayor Erin Mendenhall and former mayor Rocky Anderson. The usual dynamics of ranked choice voting are unlikely to be a factor unless more good candidates join the race.

Will voter confusion increase with ranked-choice voting?
Who are the working class and how will they vote in 2024?

Elections in 2024 and beyond: Anyone thinking about running for any office next year, or wishing to have an impact on the process, will need to start focusing this summer. For many decades, Utah candidates were given 30 days in the late winter or early spring to leisurely decide and file for office. Not anymore.

In 2022, the Legislature dramatically adjusted filing deadlines. Candidates seeking office next year have between Jan. 2 and Jan. 5 to file. They must also determine if they will be seeking nomination through the convention process or through gathering signatures. This is all in less than six months.

Those considering federal and statewide office should make their decisions by Labor Day and get their campaign organizations underway. Even contenders for down ballot races (legislative, county, school board, etc., except those in safe races) have similar pressures. Earnest candidates will need to fundraise and develop a structure to limit the competition.

Of course, the 2024 presidential election is already underway. The first Republican debate will be held on Aug. 23 this year. The intensity will only accelerate after that.

Utahns will be enjoying well deserved summer activities at Lagoon, Lake Powell, backyard barbecues, picnics and baseball games. Meanwhile, ambitious politicians will be deciding the political landscape for next year.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired 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.