Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Utah and the 2016 presidential election

It’s a tumultuous time in the presidential election, and Utah is in the middle of the action this week. Here are questions we’re hearing.

With Marco Rubio out, where do his Utah supporters go, and who do you predict will win the Republican and Democratic caucus contests in Utah on Tuesday?

(Pignanelli) "My taxi driver loves Donald Trumpbecause Trump is saying everything he has been saying at the bar for the past 20 years" — Chuck Warren, Utah political strategist

Republican presidential politics in Utah is a dinner party that rapidly disintegrated into a personal nightmare. The obnoxious drunk (who will not leave) is chasing away erudite guests but his offensive antics are popular with half the table. So the average Utah GOP voter has a terrible choice: sit next to the boorish center of attention, a preachy zealot or a wonkish nerd. The situation compels pity.

My best guess (or hope) is that Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz capture the top two slots and Trump is a distant third. Because the Democratic vote is open to all, left-leaning independents and others will swarm the caucuses to give Sen. Bernie Sanders the Beehive State.

Trump on the ballot is a problem for both parties. Local GOP candidates in safe seats should worry that turnout could be lower, or even hostile. They will need a plan to distance themselves from the top of the ballot while maintaining enthusiasm for their candidacy.

Trump’s victories are driven by big chunks of blue-collar Democrats crossing over. So the minority party must have a Trump strategy to protect candidates and incumbents outside the capital city.

(Webb) Personally, I’m voting on Tuesday for Kasich, by far the best candidate overall and the one best positioned to defeat Hillary Clinton. But Cruz seems to have the most momentum in Utah. He will probably pick up a lot of support from Rubio backers. Weekend candidate visits to Utah and last-minute endorsements (like former Gov. Mike Leavitt’s endorsement of Kasich) could make a difference.

It’s going to be very close between Clinton and Sanders, but it doesn’t really matter. Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.

Will Donald Trump’s and John Kasich’s decision to pass on debating in Utah hurt them in Tuesday’s caucus election?

(Pignanelli) Utahns are proud of our state’s amazing accomplishments. We deserved to host a presidential primary debate. Mr. Trump's refusal to attend in order to give a speech to a PAC is an offense and insult. So a message needs to be sent to the blowhard billionaire. Trump demonstrated what he thinks of us and Utahns should return the compliment on Tuesday evening.

(Webb) I’m disappointed the Utah debate isn’t happening. It would have been great to see the candidates up close and personal in a debate format. But it probably won’t make a difference in the voting. I’d love to see Trump bomb in Utah, come in third behind Kasich and Cruz. Let’s show the world Utah doesn’t buy his bigotry and bombast. I would love for Utah to be Trump’s worst state.

What are the presidential campaign implications of the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate declining to even hold hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court?

(Pignanelli) Americans are the hardest working and most productive people on the planet. Every day, over 100 million show up at work regardless of disagreements with the boss or a customer. Thus, voters will not sympathize with senators’ refusal to conduct a hearing because of anger with the president.

With Trump as the nominee, GOP control of the Senate will be precarious. So why confirm allegations that Washington, D.C., is dysfunctional and further irritate voters? The best interests of Republicans — and the country — are served by a vigorous review of the nominee.

(Webb) I admit to wondering why the Republicans don’t just hold the hearings and vote the nominee down. But Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee are right that if they do so it gives President Obama, Democratic presidential candidates and Sen. Harry Reid a nice forum to try to score political points in a months-long, divisive process infused with election-year politics. And then he’ll be voted down anyway. So why bother? The result will be the same.

Garland might be a moderate fellow and a good judge. But he’s no Antonin Scalia, and far too much is at stake for Republicans to allow the court (and the country) to tilt further left. Sure, Senate Republicans are going to get beat up for a week or two. But then it will be over and the Senate can get on to other work.

Truth is, Obama put up a sacrificial lamb with no expectation that he would actually be confirmed.