It’s a season of change, with Utah children back in the classroom, summer monsoons bringing cooler weather and footballs flying in high school and, soon, college stadiums. Politics, meanwhile, is getting more intense in Utah and nationally. Here are some highlights.

The Utah Republican Party announced that its 2024 presidential preference vote will not occur through a traditional primary election but rather at precinct caucuses on March 5, 2024. Chairman Robert Axson claims this process will save taxpayer dollars and promote candidate participation. How will this controversial decision impact Utah politics?

Pignanelli: “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” — Henry David Thoreau   

This lifeline to the delegate convention system was tried before. In 2015, the Utah Republican Central Committee gleefully decided to conduct the 2016 presidential preference contemporaneously with the precinct caucuses. Advocates confidently proclaimed their decision would “open up the process” and “promote new innovative ways to participate.”

So, 177,204 Republicans cast a ballot in the 2016 caucuses, a sharp decrease from the 2012 presidential primary in which 241,000 participated. Trump was literally unopposed in the 2020 pandemic presidential primary, and yet, a record 344,852 returned their mail ballots. History and statistics disavow any suggestions the caucus route is beneficial.

Utah will be participating with 15 other states on Super Tuesday — March 5, 2024. Because a smaller number of caucus attendees determine the result, presidential campaigns will focus expenditures. Instead of spending resources persuading a larger audience of primary voters, targeted mailers and perhaps an airport layover visit will be the most attention our state experiences.

Granted, combining the presidential preference with the precinct caucuses keeps the heart beating within the delegate convention system, but what is the quality of that life?

Webb: Today’s Republican Party is not the “big tent” party of Ronald Reagan. Instead of making it easy for all Utah Republicans to participate in the candidate selection process, the party is making it more difficult. Instead of welcoming the votes of all Utah Republicans to determine their presidential nominee, the party is saying it wants party activists to control the process and make the decisions.

Today’s party is exclusive enough that, even if you’ve been a loyal Republican your entire life, you don’t get to vote for a presidential nominee unless you can make time to attend a party caucus at a particular place at a particular time. In our high-tech world, the act of voting doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Reagan, a true conservative, welcomed all Americans into the Republican Party. If someone agreed with him 80% of the time, he celebrated the 80%. Many of today’s far-right Republicans would kick someone out of the party over the 20% disagreement. Reagan wasn’t into litmus tests and ideological purity. He welcomed diverse people and opinions.

Luckily for Republicans, the party is so dominant in Utah that it can insult many moderate party members and still win. If political affiliation in the state were more balanced, the GOP would need all Republicans, even Reagan Republicans, to win.  

A recent survey conducted by Noble Predictive Insights (an Arizona-based pollster) captured national attention with results regarding Utah junior Sen. Mitt Romney. Only 30% of 301 registered Republican respondents support Romney’s reelection. Interestingly, Attorney General Sean Reyes captured 13%. Is this a valid analysis? Will it prompt Romney into a decision?

Pignanelli: Local politicos were intrigued by the results. The poll established “undecided” is leading. Although he has not recently hinted a possible candidacy, Reyes is a third-place contender. But conventional belief was reaffirmed that Romney suffers among segments of his party. A reelection effort mandates an intense focus on retail politics. Waiting to announce is not freezing the opposition as challengers Brad Wilson and Trent Staggs are very active. The large undecided bloc indicates an opportunity for any candidate.

Romney was wooed and essentially drafted in 2018. Utah Republicans want a return of the favor and be courted. But occasions for such political romance are closing.

Webb: Were I a candidate, potential candidate, donor or voter, I wouldn’t lose sleep over this survey. It doesn’t mean much at this point in the Senate race as Romney hasn’t said whether he’s running. Romney’s biggest danger is Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, even though he doesn’t show well in the poll.

Gov. Spencer Cox offered a nonendorsement endorsement in the 2nd Congressional Distrct special election. While praising all three candidates he stated a preference for representation “off the Wasatch Front” which indicates Celeste Maloy. Does this help or hurt Maloy’s campaign?

Pignanelli: In the 2022 2nd District primary, 52% of the votes were from counties south of Tooele. So Maloy will try to use this compliment from the governor to solidify her rural base.

Webb: The governor’s comments do bolster Maloy’s campaign. Candidate Bruce Hough’s strong commitment to devolve power, decision-making, and resources to state levels where problems are more readily solved may prove receptive.

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.