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Lessons from 2022 midterms for voters and politicians | Opinion

Of course, one of the strangest midterm elections in memory delivered unpredictable, unprecedented results. Consequently, national Democrats are gloating and Republicans are backbiting. Political pundits (like your columnists) are desperately trying to explain away our overreliance on polls and history, and our failed predictions. So, we attempt to redeem ourselves by providing lessons that should be learned after what happened in Utah during the campaign season. 

The behavior of convention delegates remains unpredictable — so get your dang signatures!

Pignanelli: “People want to move away from politics as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. So, let’s get back to ad nauseam car commercials and pharmaceutical commercials because negative political ads have all just driven us crazy.” — Chris Sununu, governor, New Hampshire  

This election cycle unequivocally documented that convention delegates, of both parties, deliver unexpected outcomes. Congressman John Curtis almost suffered the fate of state Rep. Stephen Handy — elimination at state or county convention.

Other candidates struggled at convention but reached the primary ballot through signatures. Some pundits are ruminating the scenario if Senate candidate Kael Weston had secured his nomination by signatures instead of expecting delegates to behave rationally and nominate a Democratic contender for top ballot placement. A signature petition for the primary ballot is a cheap insurance policy against early political retirement.

Webb: Steve Handy is a classy guy, liked by nearly everyone, and will be greatly missed in the Legislature. A second important lesson is this: Write-in campaigns, as was attempted by Handy, are really, really, really hard to win.

If you’re going to challenge an incumbent, you need to bring more to the table than just hard work.

Pignanelli: Sen. Mike Lee’s campaign (brilliantly led by Matt Lusty) used shrewd tactics to capitalize on Evan McMullin’s lack of definition. A converse example is the Salt Lake County Council at-large race. Incumbent Richard Snelgrove is a well-respected businessman who garners affection across the political spectrum. But his opponent, Rep. Suzanne Harrison, developed a strong political persona as a physician that appealed to majority of voters.

Webb: Incumbents have many advantages, so they win a high percentage of races. That was demonstrated at local, state and federal levels. So, if you want to win an election, get yourself appointed to replace someone who resigns. Then you’ll always be the incumbent and you’ll almost always win.

Harrison was one of the few big wins for Democrats in Utah. She was a very good candidate and had a remarkable amount of money to overwhelm Snelgrove with advertising.

Avoid extremist, conspiratorial, voter fraud messaging. 

Pignanelli: Election results across the country demonstrated despite high rates of inflation and crime, voters do not want to hear inflammatory rhetoric, especially about prior elections. Most local GOP candidates avoided such nonsense and solidified their gains.

Webb: I totally blame Donald Trump for helping a bunch of election deniers win nominations, only to be defeated in the general election. Trump is a proven election loser and he drags down everyone around him. He is loyal to no one but himself. You may love him, but he doesn’t really care about you, and if you don’t serve his purposes he’ll dump you in a heartbeat. Almost everyone close to him ends up as his enemy.

If Trump is the GOP nominee in 2024, the party is doomed. Here’s something very important: You can like most of what Trump did as president (as I do), you can dislike the unfair way he’s been treated by the media and progressives, and you can still fully agree that he’s not the right person for 2024. The GOP has some terrific candidates representing the next generation. Let’s support one of them, not Trump.

If you’re going to run as an independent, then be an independent.

Pignanelli: Utahns are noted for their common sense, explaining a wariness of “independent” candidates. The Evan McMullin campaign was not shy in utilizing funding programs, consultants and campaign staff associated with Democrats. Since McMullin had not clearly defined himself, his use of Democrat structural support only enhanced suspicions.

Webb: McMullin’s very public solicitation of Democratic Party endorsement was part of what doomed him. But at least the race provided some political drama in an otherwise snoozer election in Utah.

Polls are important but you cannot over rely on them.

Pignanelli: Most polling by national Democratic and Republican organizations were incorrect in numbers and trends. These mistakes also afflicted local surveys, leading to the battle of polls over the summer. (The exception was Lee’s internal pollster Chris Wilson WPA Analytics who consistently placed the incumbent where the results finally landed.) Bad polling leads to ineffective campaign strategies and therefore future campaigns must demand greater quality in determining voter preference.

Webb: If you live by the polls, you die by the polls. Polls provide one set of data to consider, but only one among many. I thought the polls, overall, were better this election than the last few. I thought they would underestimate GOP support, but many of them did the opposite at the end, which was very surprising. Polling is just very difficult in today’s world of multiple communications apps and devices and widespread suspicion and cynicism.  

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email:

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