Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Elections, near and far, begin to take center stage

We’ve written a lot about Republican internecine warfare. Now the Democrats are engaging in family feuds. Our analysis:

Ballots are in voters’ hands for the Salt Lake City mayoral race, and capital city voters are closely divided, according to a new UtahPolicy.com poll. Why is this race so close, and who’s going to win?

Pignanelli: “The difference between a Republican and a Democrat is that Democrats are cannibals that live off each other, while the Republicans live off the Democrats.” — Will Rogers

External and internal fights in many ethnic minority communities and families are bitter nasty personal battles. (The bloodshed is especially atrocious within the two clans to which I swear fealty — the Italians and Irish.) Smaller numbers breed antagonistic familiarity and intolerance of personal quirks. We simply know each other’s warts too well.

Such are the dynamics plaguing Democrats in Salt Lake City. Ralph Becker and Jackie Biskupski served together in the Legislature and possess similar voting records. Their friends and supporters share membership to lefty political organizations. Yet the activists in each campaign know and despise their counterparts. The candidates' leadership styles are radically different and a source of pride or irritation — depending on perspective.

Despite mutual political interests, many city Democrats don't want the mayor back. Biskupski took advantage of this with a brilliant primary campaign. Becker now must solicit support from creatures that exist outside the liberal tribe (aka LDS Republicans). His success or failure in this task will determine the election results.

Webb: With little more than two weeks to Election Day, this race has tightened considerably. With a larger advertising budget, Becker has risen from the dead (he was trounced in the primary election), and seems to have some momentum. As always, the outcome depends on turnout (hard to predict in a first-ever mail-in ballot race) and which candidate excels in get-out-the-vote efforts. Becker is rallying his more moderate supporters, while Biskupski is energizing those with Becker-fatigue after eight years. Neither candidate is terribly dynamic, but both are good people. My guess is Becker squeezes out a win.

The Democratic presidential debate last week was relatively tame, although Bernie Sanders was entertaining. Did Hillary Clinton strengthen her position as front-runner, or did she display weakness?

Pignanelli: As a sick, demented political hack, I offer the following: Clinton performed well and dominated the entire evening, which will give Vice President Joe Biden second thoughts. She eliminated doubts as to her electioneering abilities. The two best debaters this election are women — Clinton and Carly Fiorina. Three of the five candidates in the Democratic debate held prior elected/appointed positions while affiliated with another political party.

“Democratic Socialism” in America was a serious discussion. (My eyes still hurt from extensive rolling.) Except for castigation of billionaires and Wall Street types, the Democrats refrained from the mass insults that predominated in the GOP debates.

Webb: While Republicans can’t even elect a House speaker, let alone coalesce around a sensible presidential candidate, the Democrats are clearly uniting behind a resurgent Clinton. Although I disagreed with most of what she said, Clinton had a great debate. Of course, she was sparring with a socialist and three lightweights who barely had a clue. I’d love to see her go against Fiorina and defend her scandals and the many domestic and foreign policy failures of Barack Obama's administration.

Clinton’s opponents have clearly pushed her to the left, but she’s adept at sneaking back to the center. As her Democratic nomination becomes more inevitable, she will become more moderate and appeal to independents and centrists. Meanwhile, the Republicans will continue to rip each other apart, veering far right to win primary votes.

Thus, it is more important than ever for Republicans to eventually nominate a mainstream candidate with great communication skills. Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul would be general election disasters. I really like Jeb Bush and John Kasich, but I doubt they can handle Clinton. Marco RubioCarly Fiorina and Chris Christie are the Republicans’ best hopes.

Back in Utah, Medicaid expansion is on life support as House and Senate Republicans rejected UtahAccess+. Is a resolution possible before the 2016 legislative session?

Pignanelli: As a close observer of this issue, I reached two conclusions. First, every suggested proposal is dead. Second, well-respected physician Sen. Brian Shiozawa will not relent until a political palatable mechanism to fund Medicaid expansion is found. This popular lawmaker may craft a solution that eliminates the state obligation and the coverage gap. If he doesn't, the issue is postponed to 2017.

Webb: Gov. Gary Herbert notes that Utahns are paying nearly $800 million in federal Obamacare taxes each year and getting none of it back. That’s nuts. Surely, a way exists to bring home most of the tax money we’re paying, use it to support low-income uninsured people and cap services and amounts so they don’t grow out of control. Eliminate the risk. Utah’s budget can absorb the required state match if it is capped. I recognize the feds have to approve Utah’s plan, but push them to accept a Utah solution.