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Sunday, March 27, 2005
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GOP, Demos engaging in behind-the-scenes intrigue

By Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb

Logo       Webb: With the Legislature over and 2006 political activities several months away, this is about as slow a time as there is for politics in Utah.
      However, much more is going on than is readily apparent. Plenty of intrigue lurks behind the scenes. The reality is that elective politics never really slows down. Fund raising, candidate recruitment, and lots of maneuvering and posturing go on year round, every year.
      Many people right now are deciding whether to run in mayoral and city council races this year. State and county Republican and Democratic organizing conventions will occur over the next few months. And congressional and legislative incumbents and prospective candidates are plotting their 2006 plans.
      The big 2006 contest is Orrin Hatch's U.S. Senate race. Hatch, who just celebrated his 71st birthday last Tuesday, is finishing his fifth six-year term. If he wins re-election next year he will serve 36 years in the Senate, a long time by any measure.
      While Hatch should coast to an easy victory next year (National Journal, after all, rated him as the least-vulnerable senator in the country), Hatch isn't taking anything for granted. He has had long-time political operative Dave Hansen on board for some time, gearing up for the race.
      And the contest might have some intrigue. A lot of people think Hatch has been in Washington too long, has become a creature of the beltway, is focused too much on national issues, and has lost touch with Utahns. So Hatch will probably have at least one challenger from within the party and maybe more.
      Republican real estate developer John D. Jacob, from Eagle Mountain in Utah County, is reportedly interested in the race. Jacob might be wiser to take on Democrat Jim Matheson in the 2nd District or move into the 3rd District and challenge Chris Cannon. But he seems bent on going after Hatch.
      On the Democratic side, businessman Pete Ashdown, who runs XMission, an Internet service provider, is being mentioned as a possible contender.

      • The Terri Schiavo case is one of the most mesmerizing human dramas I have ever seen played out on the theaters of law and politics. The moral and ethical dilemmas are almost unfathomable. While I don't know who's right, I believe the fact that concern about and interest in this tragedy is so incredibly high says something good about our society. We are a nation of caring people.
      Personally, I'm content that the rule of law has been followed. Every legal and political avenue has been explored and everyone has had their say, from the president and Congress down to local courts and local officials. That's the way our system works, and we have to accept the result. Clearly, politicians on both sides of the aisle have exploited this situation for political purposes, and I'm sure that lots of exploitative books, TV shows and movies will follow.

      Pignanelli: Sen. Orrin Hatch demonstrates that paranoia is a powerful emotion in politics. The five-term lawmaker always campaigns as if he is 10 points behind, irrespective of real or imagined opposition. His 2006 re-election bid is focused on frightening potential intraparty and Democratic opponents. Last weekend, a bevy of well-known Utahns and business leaders participated in a St. George golf tournament to raise funds for the senator (who garnered over $250,000 from the event). This early show of strength is not preventing Democrats from recruiting a contender. Democrats know that if Hatch encounters difficulty gaining the nomination, he may be vulnerable in the general election.
      Local Democratic leaders are strategizing with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid about inflicting a mortal stroke on Hatch. The first name dropped is Congressman Jim Matheson, who garners bipartisan support (he recently received a contribution from staunch Republican Mayor Tom Dolan of Sandy). However, Matheson seems content with his House seat, and certainly does not want to repeat the mistakes of predecessor Wayne Owens, who twice left Congress to pursue a failed Senate attempt. With many Utahns grateful for his positive gubernatorial campaign, Scott Matheson Jr. is mentioned as a possibility. Former Congressman Bill Orton is another favorite because his "maverick" status within the party easily attracts supporters across the political spectrum. A handful of Democratic leaders recently approached House Minority Whip Pat Jones because her profile as an articulate successful businesswoman with moderate political views is appealing. Although honored, Jones immediately declined.
      There are grumblings from Washington, D.C., that high-tech and Internet businesses wish to unseat the senator because of his aggressive activities to protect the entertainment industry in contravention to their business plans. Politicos are anticipating their involvement in choosing and funding a candidate.

      • The hottest topic around the political water cooler last week was the Deseret Morning News poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates regarding Utahns' opinions of federal government involvement in the Terri Schiavo controversy. By a margin of 54 percent to 34 percent, Utah residents opposed the congressional and presidential action to allow Schiavo's family an additional legal option to prevent removing the feeding tube. This result shocked politicos, including the patriarch of Utah politics himself, Dan Jones. Most thought Utahns would indicate overwhelming support of this effort. Instead, the Utah sympathies mirrored the reactions of most Americans as demonstrated in a similar nationwide CNN/Gallup poll.
      This survey is additional evidence that while Utah may be the most crimson of the red states in presidential elections, we are not the "Bible Belt" in many other matters. (Thank goodness!) While most Utahns sustain President Bush's "culture of life" philosophy, a predisposition against extraordinary federal activity and an emotional belief that 15 years of courtroom wrangling over this personal issue is enough, prevent their support of "Terri's Law."

Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A former candidate for Salt Lake City mayor, Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. Pignanelli's spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is executive director of the state Department of Administrative Services in the Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. administration. E-mail: