Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Off-year political rumors and speculation

As summer ends (except for the heat), football kicks off and fall colors pop in the foothills, the off-year political rumors and speculation proliferate. Because no one loves political gossip more than us, we share what we are hearing:

Is Sen. Orrin Hatch closer to a decision to run in 2018? “I guess rumors are more exciting than the truth.” — Venus Williams.

The Hatch re-election rumor mill went wild recently when thousands of voters received a postcard (resembling campaign literature) praising his work on the Trump administration’s reconsideration of national monuments. In addition, prominent GOP donors were invited to a fundraiser later this month for the benefit of the “Hatch Election Committee."

Many politicos view this as an obvious signal the senator is ramping up his feared campaign juggernaut. Others believe this is another ploy to freeze the field and defer to a favorite replacement later in the year.

We’re sticking to our predictions — Frank thinks Hatch runs next year, while LaVarr is quite confident he retires.

If the senator is keeping the seat warm for a favored person, who can best mount a last-minute campaign?

It’s getting late to plan, fundraise, organize and execute a 2018 statewide Senate race. Two guys who have the institutional support, name ID and financial prowess to do it are Mitt Romney and Congressman Chris Stewart. Neither would challenge Hatch, but both appear very interested if Hatch retires. We understand that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even encouraged Romney to run by promising he would enjoy higher status than a typical junior senator. Romney and Stewart are both well-liked by Hatch.

What hopefuls are seriously considering a campaign regardless of what Hatch decides?

Derek Miller has said he is likely to run. He served as chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbertand remains close to the governor. Former legislator Chris Herrod could represent the arch-conservative wing of the party, despite his recent 3rd District special election loss. Attorney General Sean Reyes is a possibility, along with Rep. Dan McCay.

Others mentioned by the “great mentioners” are Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson (former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee) and State Sen. Dan Hemmert, a businessman (owner of Red Hanger cleaners) who has performed well in the Legislature.

Then there are vague hints about prominent business leaders who want to try their hand in curing the problems in the Beltway swamp. Even the name of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose nomination for ambassador to Russia has been ridiculously slow, has come up.

Here’s an insider tip: Watch Mitt Romney.

Although she has said absolutely nothing, why does speculation exist that Congresswoman Mia Love may angle for the U.S. Senate or a TV network gig?

Many in her close circle state the congresswoman is not interested. But her choice of veteran GOP operative Ivan DuBois as chief of staff has caused tongues to wag.

Love has impressed some national observers with her hard work as a member of the House Financial Services Committee. They are among those promoting her as a possible Senate candidate or cable TV personality.

Why are Republicans anxious about the municipal elections in Draper and Salt Lake City?

Republicans have owned Draper for decades. But incumbent Mayor Troy Walker irritated some constituents when he offered the city as host to a homeless resource center. Former Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Weeks ran well ahead of Walker in the primary, and enjoys momentum for a possible win in November.

Salt Lake City municipal elections are officially nonpartisan, which allows the occasional Republican to sneak in. But some City Council candidates are openly running as Democrats and attacking opponents as Republicans. It worked well in the primaries. This is another leftward shift in the capital city.

Why are the supporters of Count My Vote considering placing a proposal on the ballot requiring all candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary election ballot? 

The SB54/Count My Vote compromise has been under continual attack by the Republican Party and some legislators who want to overturn SB54 and return exclusively to the caucus/convention system. So the thinking is: Why not put a proposal on the ballot letting voters choose once and for all if they want a relative handful of convention delegates to choose party nominees, or if they want all party voters to choose nominees.

What is going on with State Sen. Jim Dabakis and his Democratic colleagues?

Dabakis sharply criticized Democratic colleagues when they did not elect him to a leadership position last November. It appears he now does not attend minority caucus meetings. Some progressives are saying he used pictures of the Houston flooding to garner support for his left-wing political organization. There exists speculation that Dabakis is plotting to run for higher office independent of traditional party establishment.