Welcome to the 24/7 campaign cycle Utah.
We were officially ushered into that realm on Monday with Speaker Becky Lockhart’s fusillade against Gov. Gary Herbert during her opening remarks to the 2014 session.
And, with that, the 2016 election got underway.
Despite her protestations to the contrary, Lockhart went from rumored candidate to full-blown challenger.
Forget 2014. 2016 is where the action is from here on out.
2014 is a complete snoozer of an election. No Matheson vs. Love to keep our interest. The only statewide race is for Attorney General - and there’s not much sizzle in that contest.
No, Utah’s center of electoral gravity is beginning to congregate around the gubernatorial contest 2 ½ years from now.
Is Gary Herbert running for another term? I’m sure you’ll get sick of that headline in the next 2 years.
Is Lockhart really going to challenge Herbert? Every single move she makes between now and whenever she finally announces her decision will be dissected in preposterous detail.
And, if the “Count My Vote” initiative passes, and I think it will, the field for 2016 is already set. Only Herbert and Lockhart will have the name recognition (and money) to fight this battle. Under those rules of engagement, the 2016 slugfest is on like Donkey Kong.
The worst fears of the critics of “Count My Vote” are already coming true. Lockhart is looking to build name recognition in anticipation of a run in 2 years. She is starting now because she HAS to start now. Herbert has a 74% approval rating. That’s a big hurdle to overcome.
Despite all the problems with the caucus/convention system (and there are many), a direct primary will make this endless speculation commonplace. We won’t stop to focus on the next election when the one after that is much more interesting.
Now, these two will be circling each other like underground “fight club” participants, bouncing back and forth on their feet, waiting to see who is going to throw the next punch, although it’s not clear who is Brad Pitt and who is Ed Norton in this tortured analogy isn’t clear. (If you haven’t seen the movie, what is wrong with you?)
Lockhart has already defined the field of battle - Medicaid expansion and education, but she’s going all in with the current caucus system. Her opening speech was a dog whistle to potential Republican delegates in 2016.
The speaker slammed Herbert for saying the state had to accept some form of Medicaid expansion. She set up a zero sum game for lawmakers - you’re either with Herbert or with her. If they vote to expand Medicaid, Herbert wins and Lockhart can continue to hammer him on the issue. If Medicaid expansion doesn’t happen, Herbert loses and looks weak.
It’s a big gamble for Lockhart. If “Count My Vote” passes, she will have a much harder case to make for unseating Herbert in a primary. Her hardline stance may not play as well among primary voters as it will with delegates. That’s the danger of going “all in” on this issue.
But, this isn’t about “Count My Vote” or the caucuses. It’s about the death of tradition where lawmakers “wait their turn” for a higher office to open up. Forget that noise! The next campaign will become the most important campaign, and politicians will start making moves with an eye on their next office, not the one they currently hold.
Lockhart is clearly not waiting for Herbert to step aside, so she’s going to try to give him a push.
Utah’s elections are about to become a wheel - endlessly spinning, giving the illusion of motion. Candidates will rise up on the spokes, and they will be cast down when they reach the bottom, only to be replaced by the next politician looking to take a ride.