Frank R. Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb: What’s happening in 3rd District special election?

Since politics is both dysfunctional and unfathomable at the national level, we’ll start off the dog days of summer looking at local politics — particularly a Utah anomaly: a congressional special election, including its cause.

Did former Congressman Jason Chaffetz betray voters and disappoint conservatives by leaving office early for a career as a cable TV personality? What are his prospects with Fox News?

Pignanelli: "The cable news networks have an online audience. That's a big thing, because it affects the local newspaper's website … and the local paper, too.” — Barry Parr

I am the weird type who obsessively tunes in to various cable outlets when exercising or "breaks" between work responsibilities and downloads the podcasts of ALL the Sunday morning political programs. Speaking as an experienced consumer of so much blab from wonks and hacks, Chaffetz will at least be entertaining and can offer practical perspectives of Congress. Even detractors, who adamantly disagree with his politics, admit (when pressured) Chaffetz is talented in front of the camera.

Government policy is now guided by postings in social media — which demands new perspectives in news analysis and a potential fertile arena for Chaffetz’s analysis. In the long-term, Chaffetz will need to stay relevant to land and keep his own show.

If Chaffetz becomes a big hit on the national network, any grumblings from constituents will diminish. Nothing tempers disappointment more than success. (I hope that is true for the sake of my mother.)

Webb: It’s obviously always best for a politician to finish out a term. But the ferocity with which Chaffetz has been assailed on social media is unwarranted. Chaffetz did what he thinks is best for himself and his family. He served well for a long period. It’s a free world. A process exists to replace him.

Now someone else has a chance. It’s interesting that a lot of the same people who are attacking Chaffetz think there should be term limits, and with equal zeal they attack Orrin Hatch and other politicians — for staying too long.

What are politicos saying about the 3rd Congressional District special election?

Pignanelli: Provo Mayor John Curtis has an army of volunteers and a deep well of goodwill inside the county, along with affection from local technology companies. Observers are wondering if national special interest groups (i.e. Club for Growth) throw needed resources to former Rep. Chris Herrod.

A search for Tanner Ainge on social media releases a downpour of commentary about his father enticing Gordon Hayward to play for the Celtics. Unless Ainge establishes a political persona quick, he is likely to suffer for the sins of his famous dad.

Webb: Third District voters have a clear choice, and I am confident they will make the right decision. The race features three very different candidates, all of them good people. Former legislator Herrod is sincere in his right-wing ideology. Ainge is a smart, young, capable attorney and businessman, a political newcomer with a famous father. Curtis is a popular two-term mayor of one of Utah’s largest cities.

Of the three, I believe Curtis is best prepared to be Utah’s next member of Congress. He is smart, capable, humble, creative, funny and honest. He would instantly be an effective member of Congress.

If you believe social media posts reflect voter sentiment, Ainge has been hurt by his father taking Hayward to Boston. But I think voters will keep sports and politics separate.

In a low-turnout primary election, Herrod could be a factor because his ultra-conservative followers will definitely turn out to vote. With polls showing high numbers of undecided voters, all three candidates need to become better known.

Even Utah County has now moved into mail-in balloting. What does this mean for this special election and future elections across the state?

Pignanelli: Studies indicate that mail-in balloting increases turnout for municipal and special elections. Veterans are surmising Mayor Curtis could be the beneficiary of this development. His name identification and established support from the heart of the district — Utah County — is an advantage with a shortened lead-in for a special election.

With the inclusion of Utah County, statewide mail-in balloting advances the timing by more than a month for primaries and general elections. The dynamics of campaigns, especially advertising and performing GOTV, are altered. Further, candidates must increase focus on targeted mailings and social media while decreasing reliance on television. Twenty-first century politics continues to evolve.

Webb: Ballots go out July 25, a little more than two weeks away. The Aug. 15 primary election is only a little more than a month away. In the old days, I’d be saying that little-known candidates like Ainge and Herrod need to be hitting the airwaves (radio and TV) hard right now to have a chance.

But in an age of social media, radio and TV advertising aren’t as important. It’s possible that in a low-turnout primary election, social media plus direct mail, and grass-roots, person-to-person campaigning could win the race — if a campaign focuses all efforts on people who actually vote.

A wild card is the possibility of the campaign turning negative with outside groups attacking Curtis.