The June 25 primary election is fast approaching. The stakes are obviously high, but the unique characteristics of this event have broad implications beyond just finalizing nominees.

The primary contest for U.S. Senate, with four candidates, and the two gubernatorial contenders are obviously attracting the most attention. But also on the ballot are three candidates for attorney general, five for the 3rd Congressional District and two each in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts. And some legislative races are also in play. How should a down-ballot candidate confront these unique challenges?

Pignanelli: “Every great political campaign rewrites the rules; devising a new way to win is what gives campaigns a comparative advantage against their foes.” — John Podhoretz

This primary is the ultimate cage match. Over two dozen contestants will be battling against an opponent(s) but also deflecting errant swings from combatants in other races.

All candidates strive to distinguish themselves from the field. But, spoiler alert: Pouring more resources in TV commercials bashing Biden, screaming about immigration or walking through nature will not achieve that goal. Down-ballot contenders should utilize inexpensive geo-fenced social media ads and good old-fashioned shoe leather. They cannot compete with the massive war chests of statewide hopefuls vying for voter attention and must focus their efforts on hyper-local outreach of high-likely voters. Tactics identifying voters and understanding participating demographics will be crucial.

The winners of this upcoming cage match are breeding needed campaign operatives who understand 21st-century technology and dynamics.

Webb: Way back in 1992 (yes, ancient history), when I ran Mike Leavitt’s first campaign for governor, we confronted this issue: How does a little-known candidate with limited resources run a statewide primary race against a much better-known opponent? How can we differentiate ourselves by connecting with voters at a very local level and show that we care about their particular issues?

One strategy was to visit cities, towns and small counties all across Utah, arranging in advance an interview with the local radio station and local newspaper. So we would hit a town with Leavitt carrying one of those old “brick” cell phones. He would walk down Main Street with a local mayor, legislator or other leader.

He would get on the phone interview with the local radio station, talk about local issues and say something like: “Yeah, it’s great to be in Richfield. I’m here with (local leader) and we’re about to visit with the folks in Bob’s Barber Shop and Fred’s Drug Store. I’m hearing folks here are concerned about (list issues). As governor, I’m going to work hard on (local issues) with (local leaders). I know they’re important here in Sevier County.” And so on.

We might spend only an hour in a county or community, and hit four or five communities in a day. But by leveraging precious time, most everyone in the county knew that Leavitt was there and cared about their issues. Grassroots politicking, even in a statewide race. Today’s communications channels are different, but local engagement is key. With social media, it’s actually easier.

The primary election to determine the Republican nominee to replace Rep. John Curtis will have five names on the ballot. (Mike Kennedy, JR Bird, John Dougall, Case Lawrence and Stewart Peay.) Thus, the plurality percentage to win could be the lowest in history. What strategies do politicos expect in this contest?

Pignanelli: All these hopefuls possess strong and varied backgrounds. But politicos are sensing that Kennedy is maintaining a slight lead over Lawrence (with the others trailing), while a huge undecided remains.

This contest will be won on three tried and true political principals: name ID, name ID and name ID. The gubernatorial and Senate contests are sucking most of the political oxygen and many voters will have taxed their enthusiasm for carefully vetting each candidate via an internet search. The path to victory is voters recognizing a name and possibly correlating that into some amount of trust for the candidate. Again, this will require creative tactics and messaging.

Webb: Nothing replaces long hours and very hard work. Walking neighborhoods can be dramatically leveraged by focused communications to all voters in the community before and after the walk. “I’m coming. I want to hear from you.” “I was there; this is what I heard you’re concerned about.”

Coalitions and mini-campaigns can be developed within dozens of interest groups and geographic areas. Well-known chairs within each interest group or geographic region can be given the charge and resources to run campaigns, including social media, within their coalitions or communities.


Does this flurry of candidates foster possible changes to the convention/delegate and signature-gathering process?

Pignanelli: Especially in the 3rd Congressional District with five candidates on the ballot, this question is relevant. More importantly, what, if anything, can be done? Some legislators are already weighing changes to Utah’s election system. Possible solutions include raising the signature threshold, eliminating the convention process, statewide ranked choice voting or implementing a runoff cycle. Each of these possibilities will appease certain constituencies while other special interests will sharpen their pitchforks.

Webb: The top vote-getter tends to be the best candidate even with a relatively low percentage of votes. I would be fine with a runoff election between the top two if no candidate gets above, say, 35%. It would cost a little money, but democracy is worth it.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant. Email: Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email:

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