Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: A contested GOP convention and Utah candidates

Politics has been full of surprises and strange activities in this election cycle. Although Utahns have tried to remain dignified through it all, we’ve been directly engaged (bombarded with advertisements featuring Melania Trump’s risque modeling endeavors, Donald Trump’s bombast, Bernie Sanders’incredible rallies, etc.) in this bizarre election. These broader themes do have an impact locally.

The Wisconsin primary likely assured a contested GOP Republican convention with an unknown outcome. A Utah Policy Poll showed Hillary Clinton could be competitive with Donald Trump — in Utah! How are Utah candidates dealing with these surprises?

Pignanelli: "The only way Trump gets beat is if his supporters morally collapse because of bad defeats in California and New York. They will be like Oklahoma at the end of the Villanova game … nothing there.” — David Brooks

Utah be proud. Very proud. Your common-sense approach garnered respect from fellow Americans. News commentators relished how Utah voters deliberately and strategically chose a candidate who could stall Trump’s momentum — Ted Cruz. Even international media broadcasted the eye-opening Utah Clinton vs. Trump poll results.

The Utah storms so unnerved Trump & Company they responded to the Ms. Trump supermodel ad with an outrageous tweet attacking Heidi Cruz. By failing to apologize for this, and his campaign manager’s non-assault assault against a female reporter, Trump was pummeled in Wisconsin.

Not since the 1976 Republican convention has our state enjoyed such an impact on the nomination process.

But shrewd GOP candidates understand the potential negative implications. Even Democrats must prepare for the fallout from incessant pummeling of Clinton by Sanders.

Smart Utah Republicans will develop an independent image distancing themselves from these embarrassments. They can consult with local Democrats, who have vast experience creating such electoral strategies with national candidates unappealing to many Utahns.

Webb: Since Utah Republicans decisively dumped Trump, GOP candidates here likely won’t be hurt if he leads the ballot. But it does put them in an uncomfortable spot, having to state whether they support their presidential nominee.

Certainly, Clinton will get a lot more votes if Trump is the GOP nominee. But my guess is that by Election Day, Republicans will come home and vote for Trump with a lot of nose-holding.

Utah candidates should simply note that whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is in the White House, it reinforces the need to reduce the size and cost of the federal government and devolve more programs and authority to the states. Washington is going to be a gridlocked mess, a veritable disaster, especially if Trump causes the Republicans to lose the Senate.

Utah candidates should turn the presidential race into a discussion on the need for balanced federalism.

What is happening in the race for the Governor's Mansion?

Pignanelli: The Gary Herbert and Jonathan Johnson campaigns are deep in combat, fighting for delegates in county conventions. The governor is popular and reminding audiences Utah is leading the country in job creation and economic prosperity. Johnson is educating Utah delegates that many Utah politicians were birthed by challenging incumbents (Orrin Hatch, Jim Hansen, Jason Chaffetz, Mike Lee and … Gary Herbert). Because Herbert has secured enough signatures to advance to the primary, Johnson's task is to bruise him in the convention and create doubts about his strength. So far, the Democratic contenders have been rather polite.

Webb: This is a relatively quiet time in Utah’s election cycle as candidates chase delegates with phone calls, mailings, and large and small gatherings. It’s a good battle on the Republican side, and no incumbent can take re-election for granted in this anti-establishment atmosphere. Still, Herbert enjoys high approval ratings and solid conservative credentials. He has to be considered the odds-on favorite.

That doesn’t mean Herbert will eliminate Johnson at convention. I would be surprised if that happened. Republican convention delegates have a habit of humbling strong Republican incumbents (like Mike Leavitt and Orrin Hatch) by forcing them into primary elections (where they handily defeat their upstart opponents).

On the Democratic side, I assume Michael Weinholtzwill eliminate Vaughn Cook at the Democratic convention. It’s early enough in the campaign that Weinholtz can stay relatively quiet, build his campaign organization and name ID and hold his fire on the Republicans. The barrage will come soon enough.

Intra-party challenges from the far right and far left are plaguing some state legislators. What does this imply?

Pignanelli: Trump, Sanders (and Johnson) were out there long enough to sow discontent that trickles down. Thus many solid conservatives and steady liberals are facing attacks from their fringe. Incumbents that secured enough signatures are not as panicked as those who must face grumpy delegates. But this does signify 2016 as a quicksand year for all politicians.

Webb: The presidential race demonstrates the degree of grass-roots uprising on both sides against the establishment (people like me). Utah displays more common sense than a lot of states, but the anti-establishment sentiment certainly exists here. Still, Utah is doing well economically, our leaders govern responsibly, citizens are optimistic, and most strong incumbents will be just fine.