Our column deadline arrived before primary election results were tallied and before the Thursday presidential debate, so that analysis must wait. But plenty of other political maneuverings exist for us to hash out.

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll shows President Joseph Biden tied with third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy, each garnering 20% support of Utah voters. Former President Donald Trump maintains a commanding lead with 49%. What does this mean for other races and the future of third parties? Could RFK actually beat a sitting president in Utah?

Pignanelli: “I am praying nightly those aren’t the only two choices come Election Day and there comes somebody else.” — Sue Daniels

Utahns are polite and decent but persnickety voters when displeased with choices in presidential elections. This grumpiness was first exhibited in 1912: Republican Howard Taft captured 37.46%, Democrat Woodrow Wilson 32.55%, Progressive Theodore Roosevelt 21.51% and Socialist Eugene Debs 8.03%. The 1992 results were especially telling: Republican President George W. Bush (43.36%), Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton (24.65%) and independent Ross Perot (27.34%). Some pundits swear Clinton never forgave the Beehive State for that insult.

Once again concerned with the major party contenders, over 20% of Utahns supported Libertarian Gary Johnson in August 2016. This frustration led to the ultimate result of Donald Trump (45.54%), Hillary Clinton (27.46%) and independent Evan McMullin (21.54%). It’s therefore no surprise that the current alternative, RFK, is surging. RFK is only nine points behind Trump in favorability and an astonishing 20 points ahead of Biden.

This poses issues for down-ballot candidates. There may not be coattails for Republicans from a Trump victory, and Biden’s unpopularity is a major drag for Democrats. These dynamics must be considered in campaign strategies.

Utahns’ famous quiet consternations will keep the local “contest” between Biden and RFK interesting.

Webb: Utah is not a super-Trump state, but most voters really, really, really don’t want Biden to be reelected. That explains the rather surprising support for Kennedy. Voters who don’t like Trump but refuse to hold their noses and vote for Biden have an alternative in Kennedy.

Kennedy obviously won’t win the election, and views differ on whether he will be a spoiler. Various polls show him siphoning support from either Trump or Biden by small amounts, and other polls show the impact is neutral.

On paper, at least, a third-party or independent candidate should do well, both in Utah and nationally. Voter dissatisfaction is very high for both parties and their candidates. Polls show high numbers of citizens identify as independent or nonpartisan. But voters tend to come home to the traditional parties when they cast ballots, so Republican or Democratic candidates almost always win. The best path to electoral victory is still to work through the traditional parties.

Felony convictions have been handed down on both sides of the presidential aisle, with President Biden’s son convicted of three felonies regarding the illegal purchase of a firearm and Trump convicted of 34 felonies related to hush-money payments. What do voters think of these convictions, and will they have an impact on the election?

Pignanelli: In a June Politico/Ipsos poll, 21% of independent voters nationwide stated the felony convictions make them less likely to support Trump. In a close election, this potential swing is critical. But the debates, conventions, summer vacations, etc. are also on the horizon, which means these feelings will likely dissipate.

Webb: I certainly don’t blame Biden for the addictions and misdeeds of his son, Hunter. By all indications, Biden loves his son and has tried to help him through his difficulties. Voters inclined to support Biden won’t back off because of Hunter’s legal problems.

While I certainly am disappointed at Trump’s lack of personal discipline and morality, I agree with most Republicans that he was unfairly targeted by partisan prosecutors in the hush-money case. Democrats have consistently overreached in their investigations and impeachments of Trump. Instead of turning his supporters against him, these prosecutions have produced sympathy and have hardened resolve to return Trump to the White House. Trump has also raised immense amounts of money over his legal challenges. Trump’s convictions will have minimal impact on the election.


In Utah, primary elections are over, and the first presidential debate (after our deadline) is now in the books. Can political gawkers expect a relatively campaign-free summer, or will there be sustained political intrigue until the unofficial start of the campaign season (aka Labor Day)?

Pignanelli: To the glee of political hacks like us — no way! We have a raucous summer ahead full of a vice presidential nomination, additional presidential debates and Utah Democrats ramping up their efforts — including my former high school debate partner and gubernatorial candidate, Brian King. Expect to see your local Pioneer Day parade filled with grinning politicians tossing saltwater taffy from convertibles.

Webb: There will be plenty of political fireworks all summer long at the national level. But citizens tired of politics need not pay much attention until the cooler temperatures of September. In Utah, there will (thankfully) be a summer lull, especially because most major races aren’t expected to be very competitive.

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.

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