So, allow me, please, to make a few predictions in this space so all of the races don’t have to be crammed in next week.
As always, my predictions (would it be better to call them just outright guesses?) come with this condition: The following is just one person’s opinion, based on three decades of watching and writing about Utah elections.
In this year of The Big Mitt, one has to say that Republicans – the majority in the Beehive state since the mid-1970s – will have a good election.
When you realize that there is only one – only ONE – Democratic state legislator from outside of Salt Lake County – you see that in 27 of 29 counties, simply having an R behind your name usually means victory.
So let’s concentrate here on Salt Lake County races.
Before making my picks understand this – the final 12 days of the campaign could still change a few races.
Specifically, if Democratic candidates in big contests decide to go negative (or more negative than they have already) the tone of this year’s campaigns in Utah could shift.
The popular Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, running for governor as a Democrat, pounded hard on GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, then seeking the final two years of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.’s term.
Corroon’s radio and TV ads were highly critical of Herbert, seen by most Utahns as a nice guy.
Herbert beat Corroon easily – even defeating Corroon in Salt Lake County, which Corroon had carried in a landslide in his 2008 re-election.
Corroon’s unpopularity probably had some impact on Salt Lake County Council races in 2010, and Democrats lost their majority on the Council that year.
So, if Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Scott Howell and/or gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke go negative in these final days, I believe that tone could wash down into Salt Lake County races where Democrat Ben McAdams is running for mayor and long-time Councilman Jim Bradley seeks a countywide Council seat.
In addition, if there is some kind of anti-Mormon issue raising its head in the U.S. presidential race (I don’t see President Barack Obama himself bringing this up), then some Salt Lake County LDS voters could take it out on local Democratic candidates – since the Utah presidential vote is already decided, Mitt Romney wins really bit here.
With those caveats, I believe:
-- McAdams, an easy-going, moderate-to-conservative Democratic state senator from Salt Lake City, wins in a close race for county mayor over Republican Mark Crockett.
Crockett, a former Salt Lake County Councilmember who lost his bid for re-election several years ago, has not proven himself an attractive candidate.
McAdams has been, I believe, relatively effective in criticizing Crockett for his reportedly short temper and my-way-or-the-highway form of political decision-making.
Utahns like to like their high-profile government executives. They can deal with being more partisan with legislative branch members, where partisanship is more acceptable.
But unlikable governors or mayors don’t cut it much here.
-- Whether it is the relatively well-known Bradley helping McAdams or the other way around, I see Bradley also winning his countywide Council seat again. Bradley says this will be his last run for the Council, and maybe that could have some effect on voters, as well.
There is an old belief – and there’s really no statistical evidence of this – that moderate Utah Republicans see nothing really wrong with voting for a Democrat here or there on the ballot, as long as they like the candidate.
There may even be kind of a feeling that Republicans can get a bit arrogant if they win everything, every election.
These Republican voters likely won’t cross the ballot in important races, like for president, governor or U.S. Senate.
But they may consider an independent Democrat, like Jim Matheson, in a U.S. House race, or some Democrat they know pretty well in a local contest.
Just this week McAdams started running a light, humorous TV ad showing a number of Salt Lake County local mayors literally “getting on the bus” for a McAdams endorsement.
A few of these mayors are well known Republicans, even though mayoral races are nonpartisan on the ballot.
And that may well help McAdams: If you like your local mayor, and don’t know McAdams personally, then maybe you’ll give him a chance vote if your mayor endorses him.
And it leads to the question of why these local mayors are not endorsing Crockett. Do they know something about Crockett’s personality; that they’d rather not work with him as county mayor?
That’s what McAdams hopes folks will see in his new ad.
And anyway, if you like divided government, even if you are a Republican who votes for McAdams and Bradley, you are basically voting for the status quo: The county already has a Democrat mayor and a Democrat (Bradley) in that countywide seat.
In the end you would still have a county executive branch run by a Democrat and a County Council run by the majority Republicans.
The real question then becomes what happens in Salt Lake County legislative races?
There are 15 state House seats now held by incumbent Democrats in the county. A few of those incumbents are not running again, but one would figure the Democratic candidate in those districts would be the favorite.
That is, you would figure that if 2012 were a normal legislative election year.
But it isn’t.
First, there’s redistricting to consider. Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley, was put into the same new district as Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley. So one incumbent must fall there.
Long-time Rep. Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley, was defeated in the House District 33 intra-party primary by Liz Munez. So not only is the district new, but Munez hasn’t been on the ballot before, as Hendrickson was for two dozen years.
Reps. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek; Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray; Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay; and Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights; all have strong Republicans running against them this year.
While each have faced serious GOP challengers before, the feeling among Republican county leaders is 2012 – with The Big Mitt at the top of the ticket -- is that this is the year they get two to four of these Democratic incumbents.
Meanwhile, as reported in UtahPolicy this week, there are two Republican House incumbents in Salt Lake County who could be vulnerable because of redistricting and/or demographic changes in their districts.
Cox is reportedly slightly behind Fisher in an internal GOP poll.
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville/West Valley, is also facing a strong challenge from Democrat Celina Milner in House District 34.
-- I think House Democrats lose two of their incumbents and pick up one seat by beating an incumbent Republican in Salt Lake County – giving Republicans a net gain of one seat in the county.
On the Senate side, Democrats have no real chance to pick up any seats. Like their minority House colleagues, Senate Democrats lost on seat in the county via redistricting – two Democrats combined into one district.
-- And I also think Democrats lose the Senate District 8 seat now held by retiring Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights.
The Democrat in that race is Hispanic activist Josie Valdez. She will do very well in her home areas of Midvale and Murray. But the GOP candidate, Brian Shiozawa, will carry his home area of Cottonwood Heights.
Turnout will be the key. But I see Shiozawa taking the day.
Remember, these “free” predictions I offer may well turn out to be what they are worth – little true value.
In any case, please vote.
There could be three or four legislative races this year that swing on a few dozen ballots – and you vote really does count.
Next week: Bernick predicts the major races on the Utah ballot.