Why Tuesday’s GOP primary debates will be boring

Get ready for Tuesday’s U.S. Senate and 3rd CD Republican primary debates to be snoozers. 

There’s entirely no reason for Mitt Romney or Rep. John Curtis to do anything other than playing it safe when they take the stage against Mike Kennedy and Chris Herrod, respectively.

Why? They’re winning.

On Friday, our latest UtahPolicy.com survey found Romney with a massive 43-point edge over Kennedy among likely GOP primary voters.

Similarly, a source inside the Curtis campaign tells UtahPolicy.com they’ve seen polling in their race that gives Curtis a 40-point lead over Herrod. (Editor’s note: UtahPolicy.com will release our own polling in this race later this week.)

That means both men just have to stick to the script, not make any unforced errors, and they’ll probably cruise to a win in June’s primary election. Tuesday’s debate should be nothing more than a banausic discussion, covering well-worn political ground. Boring equals safe.

At the same time, expect both Kennedy and Herrod to come out swinging on Tuesday. They have to. They both know they’re losing and need to throw anything and everything at their opponents, trying to force a game-changing gaffe. They probably won’t get it. 

While Romney does tend to put his foot in his mouth during the heat of a political campaign, most recently declaring hot dog to be his “favorite meat,” he probably won’t do that Tuesday evening. As I’ve said before, the format established by the Utah Debate Commission doesn’t allow candidates to dig themselves into a hole. The limited time candidates are given to answer questions, and even shorter rebuttal time, protect them from making a fatal error. More time usually equates to more danger for candidates.

Even if Romney or Curtis make a big mistake, the timing of Tuesday’s debate won’t help Herrod or Kennedy much. It’s a month until election day, and given the churn of our daily news cycle, whatever happens on the debate stage will mostly fade from the collective political memory before next month’s election.

The most exciting matchup on Tuesday’s triple debate bill is the CD1 Democratic debate between Lee Castillo and Kurt Weiland. While neither man has much of a chance to beat incumbent Republican Rob Bishop in November, we have no idea who is ahead in that race. In other words, both men have everything to gain, and everything to lose. Tuesday’s CD1 primary debate will go a long way toward deciding who the Democratic nominee will be in that race. You can’t say that about the other two debates.

Kennedy and Herrod need to convince a sizable number of Republican primary voters why they should switch their vote away from Romney and Curtis. That’s a much different dynamic than a debate between candidates only a few points apart in the polls.

Chris Herrod and Mike Kennedy need to land a knockout punch. John Curtis and Mitt Romney are just working to survive without much if any, controversy. That’s hardly a recipe for high political drama.