Despite Romney's excellent race so far, the path to the nomination will be rocky. He will face crises, accusations, and setbacks.

We routinely make great nuisances of ourselves by doing the easy thing: pontificating on events that have already occurred and have become history ("shooting the wounded" is the best description).

So in this column, we do the harder thing: prophesy the presidential future. Of course, no consequences will occur if we are wrong (we already have bad reputations), and no one really cares what we say, so the risk factor isn't all that high. But with Election Day 2012 less than a year away, if we're right you can say you read it here first, and if we're wrong you'll hopefully have forgotten all about our prognostications.

Who will be the GOP nominee and why?

Pignanelli: "The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning." — Adlai Stevenson

The GOP will behave as Democrats (screw-up an automatic victory) and nominate someone other than Jon Huntsman, the only candidate who could trounce President Barack Obama. Instead, Republicans refuse to endorse Mitt Romney early and force him to compete in most primary/caucus states in early 2012, providing opportunities for Romney to be bruised and abused by the media. The stranger anti-Romney alternatives (Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum) receive their slice of attention. GOP delegates eventually — and begrudgingly — choose Romney in the convention. The former Massachusetts governor is selected for the worst reasons: he is not too crazy, he patronized most of the special interest groups and played it safe. Romney is the sweater in the drawer, comfortable but not a joy to wear.

Webb: Romney wins the nomination, mostly because he'll be the last guy standing and he's the best candidate to defeat Obama (although Huntsman would also do well). Newt Gingrich is the only GOP challenger in Romney's way, and it's doubtful Gingrich will weather the intense media scrutiny being unleashed on him as a front-runner.

Despite Romney's excellent race so far, the path to the nomination will be rocky. He will face crises, accusations, and setbacks. But he is the candidate with the money and organization to fight on multiple fronts and avoid make-or-break expectations in a particular state (although he certainly needs some early wins). Ultimately, Republicans want a nominee who can defeat Obama, and Romney's the guy.

Who will be elected president and why?

Webb: In the most expensive political campaign in history, and one of the nastiest in decades, Romney pulls out a narrow win. The economy improves somewhat over the summer, but unemployment remains high, deficits soar and Congress stays gridlocked. Voters remain angry, and they have a stark choice: If you think more government, with high taxes and Greece-like unsustainable debt, is the solution to every problem, then vote for Obama. If you think it's time to scale back government and get entitlements and deficits under control, then vote for Romney. This center-right nation will vote for the center-right candidate. However, Obama is a great communicator, still has rock-star personal appeal and will engage in nasty politics. Expect Romney's LDS faith to come under severe scrutiny and attack by third parties.

Pignanelli: After the GOP convention, most Republicans are "mild about Mitt," and his campaign reflects the lack of passion plaguing conservatives. Many Republicans assume voters possess the same disregard for the Obama administration. They forget that Obama politicos from Chicago were busy refining their strategy to portray Romney as the heartless corporate bigwig who eliminated thousands of American jobs and was rewarded bonuses for his efforts. Obama reminds voters that while not perfect, he did deliver on a number of promises, including rescuing the economy from oblivion, eliminating pre-existing conditions for health insurance and fighting terrorism through intelligent methods.

Further, because of Romney's anti-immigration stance, Obama activates massive Latino support. Finally, third-party conservatives attract the support of hard-core Republicans and prevent Romney's election.

Is 2012 Armageddon for the Democrats, or do they flourish?

Pignanelli: Because of redistricting, Democrats will automatically lose a handful of seats. However, the rough treatment national Republicans dish out to Romney will dampen the enthusiasm for straight-ticket voting by local GOP.

Webb: Nationally, Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency. In Utah, Republicans win every congressional seat and pick up a few legislative seats, but Dems maintain Salt Lake County mayorship.

What is Jon Huntsman's future?

Webb: Huntsman emerges in relatively good shape. Even if he didn't ever really catch on, he didn't embarrass himself like several other candidates. He continues to enjoy great reviews from pundits. He was the practical candidate, offering realistic solutions instead of simplistic, ideological red meat. If Romney wins, Huntsman's obviously not going to get a Cabinet spot, so he has to join or start a think tank to stay relevant.

Pignanelli: The media and political bigwigs love everything about Huntsman — his intelligence, vision and charisma. Obama operatives eventually leak that if Huntsman had been the Republican nominee, they had no real strategy to prevent his election. Party leaders push him to become the face and brains of the emerging 21st century Republican — the best counterforce to right-wing activists who prevented a win in 2012.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.