Utah political pundits and commentators have been abuzz with analysis and conjecture regarding last Saturday’s political conventions. We also can’t resist sharing our wise perceptions (aka ramblings from two old guys) of these important events.

The state Republican Convention was a 16-hour grueling test of survival for delegates, activists and especially the candidates. Among key outcomes: Senate candidate Trent Staggs captured 70% of the delegate vote, and Gov. Spencer Cox garnered only 32% against Phil Lyman’s 68%. What lessons or trends can be gleaned from this springtime political fest?

Pignanelli: “A political convention is just not a place where you come away with any trace of faith in human nature.” — Murray Kempton.

Many Utahns were rolling eyes in response to the convention delegates’ antics. Yet, regardless of the demonstrations and outcomes, these politicos were given valuable insight into electioneering developments.

First, high-paid consultants refused to acknowledge a national trend that was obvious in other federal races for a decade. Bombarding voters with TV ads, especially within that narrow slice of 4,000 delegates, was a waste of resources. The commercials aired by Senate candidates contained identical messaging (i.e., “tough on immigration, Biden, inflation, etc.”). But they all lacked creativity. Staggs shrewdly avoided this trap and won.

The convention also reflected the internal struggles confronting the GOP in other states and nationally between traditional, mainstream Republicans and Trumpistas. The latter prevailed last Saturday.

The delegates established a four-way primary for Senate and a five-way contest for the 3rd Congressional District. So, the successful candidates who achieve around 35 to 40% will win. This dynamic creates an advantage for contenders with a strong base — Curtis and Staggs. Cookie-cutter TV ads will again be useless.

Recent polling indicates that Cox will perform well in the primary.

History documents that convention results are rarely mirrored in a primary result. The recent sacrifice of delegates will be soon forgotten, except as future argument points among insiders.

Webb: The lesson is, if you want to win at the State Republican convention, lick Donald Trump’s boots, make silly demands like “defund the U.N.!” (Trent Staggs), and align with do-nothing obstructionists like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.

Don’t propose anything that might actually have a chance of passing Congress and being signed by the president. Just make simplistic demands that push the nation’s most serious problems off into the future.

My biggest concern is that some of these candidates, if they win, would push our nation closer to World War III with their embrace of Vladimir Putin and hostility toward our allies. Utah doesn’t need another isolationist in Congress.

It’s obvious that Lyman will be soundly defeated by Gov. Cox in the primary election. Staggs has a better chance in the primary if the right wing coalesces around him, while the mainstream vote is split between John Curtis and Brad Wilson. I think Staggs still loses, but it might be close.

In my years of involvement in politics, I’m perhaps most proud of helping a terrific group of people, including Mike Leavitt, Gail Miller, Rich McKeown and others, establish the signature-gathering path for candidates to get on the primary election ballot. Utah would be in a terrible place politically if delegates alone controlled the nomination process.

The media has extensively covered the boos and catcalls that Gov. Cox endured during his convention speeches. Also, many incumbents were defeated or forced into primaries. What is the cause, and remedy, of this hostility?

Pignanelli: The outrageous overt expressions of nastiness by convention partisans against their own is a result of extremism fueled by consolidating power into small, elite groups. Since the introduction of signature gathering, delegates are desperately clinging to any ounce of power that remains on convention day. Last week’s antics ensure more candidates will gather signatures as an insurance policy and strategic campaign decision to avoid delegates’ unpredictable behavior. This will result in further dilution of delegate influence while producing crowded primary ballots.

Webb: Politics is a rough-and-tumble sport. But that doesn’t mean delegates should descend into ugly mob behavior in the emotion of a political convention. A lot of them were probably embarrassed the next morning. Cox joins an all-star lineup of fine politicians who have been booed at state Republican conventions. In fact, if you’re not booed by this crowd, something must be wrong with you. Were he at that podium, Ronald Reagan himself would have been booed.

Also last Saturday, Democrats hosted a rather subdued state convention. Anything noticeable from the minority party?


Pignanelli: Some pundits criticized Democrats for not fostering more candidates and primaries. This is a silly observation. They fulfilled their mission of providing a full slate for major offices with little internal turmoil.

Webb: For the most part, the Democrats nominated solid, moderate candidates who have no chance to win the major races. But it’s good to have competition on the general election ballot.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired 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.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Trent Staggs said he wanted to defund NATO. He did not say that, but said he wanted to defund the United Nations.

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