Utah's gubernatorial campaign takes sharp turns to negative territory

Published: Saturday, Oct. 23 2010 10:52 p.m. MDT

But all that changed shortly after Labor Day, the traditional start of the campaign season, when news reports questioned whether contributions to the governor's campaign influenced the award of state contracts, especially the $1.7 billion reconstruction of I-15 through Utah County.

Corroon quickly jumped on the issue and started airing what have been described as some of the most negative campaign ads seen in Utah. Herbert hasn't disputed the facts. But he has vigorously denied the conclusions Corroon has drawn, including that he is part of a "corrupt system" similar to that of disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The sometimes bitter back-and-forth between the candidates over the campaign contributions issue has meant less time to talk about other areas of concern for Utahns, such as the economy and education.

Herbert emphasizes his efforts to, in his words, "grow the economy." More jobs, the governor says, means more money for schools since in Utah, income taxes go to fund education.

"A vibrant economy is the tide that raises all boats," Herbert said in response to a Deseret News/KSL-TV question about his top priority for the state. "The best methods to foster job growth are low taxes, limited government spending and a focus on a business-friendly environment to encourage private capital investment."

Corroon also said his top priority is expanding the economy, especially local businesses. But long-term, he said in response to the questionnaire, the education system is a higher priority for him.

Education, the mayor said, "goes hand in hand with our long-term economic goals. We need to have an educated work force that is prepared to enter in Utah's own private sector, rather than going out of state. Dollars invested in education stay in our communities and provide local jobs."

Education has also played a prominent role in the campaign, with the Utah Education Association that represents some 18,000 teachers statewide endorsing both candidates.

Herbert said he helped schools avoid "draconian" budget cuts in the 2010 Legislature, in part by not vetoing a cigarette-tax increase lawmakers insisted was needed to close the budget gap.

Corroon said the state needs a 10-year plan to improve schools. He said his own proposals, which include boosting math and science graduation requirements, don't require a tax increase.

Both Herbert and Corroon agreed Utahns view the troubled economy as their biggest concern.

The governor said the recovery has already begun and that he is "a steady hand at the wheel. Utah families and businesses can count on me to keep their tax burden as light as possible."

The mayor said if he's elected, he "will focus on economic development throughout the entire state" to help families coping with job losses and tough economic times.

Burbank said the final debate between the candidates, a town hall meeting broadcast live on KSL-TV Tuesday night, may have foretold Corroon's fate in the Nov. 2 election.

"Based on the polls, it looks like Gov. Herbert is in a very strong position," Burbank said. "One of the things Mayor Corroon needed to do was to make the argument for why he would be the better candidate."

Corroon probably didn't succeed in switching many votes, Burbank said, since little new ground was covered by either candidate. "Corroon probably needed something more that would catch a little bit more attention and give voters a chance to reconsider this race."

And Corroon also used the debate to once again attack Herbert on the campaign contributions issue, something Burbank said can turn off voters.

"You always want to end your campaign on a fairly positive note," he said. "One of the problems often with campaigns that become very negative is voters being disengaged. They say, 'I don't like either of these candidates.'... That's the risk of a negative campaign."

Gary R. Herbert

Age: 63

Education: Attended BYU

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