Recently, political junkies have enjoyed fireworks illuminating both the night sky and the political stage. We discuss the issues still surrounding the primary elections and the aftermath of the presidential debate.

Primary Election Day has long passed, but vote tallies were not finalized in the 2nd Congressional District by our Tuesday deadline. The contest between Rep. Celeste Maloy and Colby Jenkins may be the closest congressional race in Utah history. Why was that race such a cliff-hanger, and what lessons can political observers take away from the primary election?

Pignanelli: “You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” — Ayn Rand

The primary results established new — and reaffirmed old — actualities in Utah politics.

Few candidates that prevailed in their convention contests ultimately captured the nomination. This is a continuing long-time dynamic that may drive changes through legislation. In future elections, shrewd campaigns will increasingly wire around delegates.

Tens of millions were spent on television advertisements that lacked creativity while hammering viewers with identical issues from most candidates. These incredible expenditures had minimal impact. The outstanding exception was the clever, humorous ad by Rep. John Curtis, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party’s threat to jail him.

National Super PACs (unaffiliated with Curtis) carpet-bombed the state with negative advertising against Trent Staggs. Several cited “sources” of these allegations were either incomplete or incorrect. Traditional media or other watchdog groups did not call attention to this. Therefore, politicians are on notice that they are on their own to respond.

Celeste Maloy enjoyed few rewards of an incumbent, having secured her seat in a special election just seven months before. Colby Jenkins also hailed from rural Utah, thus eroding this advantage for her. Consequently, a close race.

Webb: 2nd Congressional District voters had a very clear choice between Jenkins, an all-in, ultra-MAGA Trump enthusiast, and Maloy, a very conservative, but more mainstream, Republican who also supports Trump.

The razor-thin outcome shows that Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District are evenly divided between traditional conservative Republicans and die-hard, populist Trump supporters who want to blow up the Republican establishment and start over.

Jenkins considering another lawsuit over late postmarked ballots as Rep. Maloy still leads in 2nd Congressional race

The race also shows that Washington County is likely the most ultra-conservative large county in the state, and it is growing rapidly in political clout.

Finally, the contest shows that every vote counts and every single campaign activity and effort is important, right up and through election day.

Some Republicans are claiming fraud in the primary election. This paper has conducted an analysis of voting procedures and found them of high quality.

Will these allegations continue?

Gov. candidate Phil Lyman questioned Utah’s elections. We looked into the process

Pignanelli: The Utah Legislature is serious about election security and used their purse strings and auditors to conduct a rigorous inspection in 2022. They continue to conduct yearly examinations. The independent review of balloting processes by the Deseret News also found resounding evidence that Utah elections are free and fair. The state has checks, balances, redundancies and independently elected county officials ensuring that these critical activities are conducted lawfully. Data and transparency are always the best antidote to false information and unfounded allegations.

Webb: Nothing in life is perfect, but Utah elections are conducted professionally, fairly and accurately. Detractors have not identified any error that would overturn an election race. Even the issue in Iron County relating to the postmarking of ballots that were routed through Las Vegas would not likely change the 2nd Congressional District outcome. But sore losers always look for excuses, so we can expect the complaints to continue.

The headlines after the presidential debate have been dominated by high-profile Democrats calling for President Joe Biden to withdraw from the race. Is it likely Biden will acquiesce, or will there be a contested convention?

Pignanelli: Democratic National Committee rules provide: “Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.” If a significant number of delegates threaten this loophole to place a name in nomination other than Biden, a convention battle is likely. This would be exciting for political junkies like us, but we remind Democrats of the Western wisdom: You don’t change horses midstream.

Could Democrats oust Biden at convention? It’s complicated

Webb: Democrats are stuck in a dilemma with no simple solution. I doubt they will dump Biden. So here’s what they hope: The debate was just one bad night for Biden. He’s not going to have any further major brain freezes, speaking lapses or “senior moments” over the final 3 1/2 months of the campaign.

Some Democrats are also suggesting that a setback like this, a smack on the side of the head improving chances that the hated Trump might actually win, will galvanize the party and unite Democrats around Biden out of desperation, if nothing else.

Seems to me the Democrats are whistling past the political graveyard.

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:

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.