SALT LAKE CITY — The election isn't until November 2012, but there are at least a half-dozen likely candidates to succeed outgoing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
Corroon, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, has said he will not seek a third term as mayor of the state's largest county.
The state and county GOP have made winning back the office a top priority. So far, though, the list of would-be contenders is split between Republicans and Democrats.
The three Republicans who say they're looking at a run are West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder, Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove and Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott.
On the Democratic side, Salt Lake County Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn, Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero and former U.S. Senate candidate Sam Granato say they're also eying the race.
"Salt Lake County is the battleground in Utah," said state Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright. "We always viewed ourselves as the underdog in Salt Lake County."
That role may be changing, however.
Not only has the GOP taken control of the Salt Lake County Council, Wright said, but also the party's gubernatorial candidate, Gov. Gary Herbert, was able to beat Corroon in Salt Lake County.
"We've pushed back," he said. "And we feel like in the political climate we're in right now, we can take back the county mayor's seat."
Not surprisingly, state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland believes his party can hold onto the powerful position.
"We're starting to see buyers' remorse on the 2010 election," Holland said. "I think our chances are better than 50-50 that a Democrat will be elected county mayor in 2012. I'm confident of that."
Both Wright and Holland are counting on the top of the ticket to win over voters in the county mayor's race, since 2012 is a presidential election year.
Democratic President Barack Obama, who's running for a second term, won Salt Lake County in 2008. But Republicans are hoping former Utah Olympic boss Mitt Romney, one of the most popular politicians ever in Utah, will be the GOP nominee.
The politicians considering the race see an open seat that right now, appears to be up for grabs.
Dunn said she'll have Corroon's endorsement should she decide to run but acknowledges that alone won't be enough to win.
"I don't think one endorsement would do it," she said. A county employee since 2005 and deputy mayor since 2009, Dunn said she's "learned a lot from working with the mayor and what it would take to win the race."
Snelgrove said there's going to be a lot of competition for voters' attention in the next election cycle because in addition to the presidential race, candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and, thanks to the 2010 Census, Utah's four congressional seats will be on the ballot.
"With that many candidates and that many races, it's going to be a challenge for a county mayor's race to be seen and heard," the first-year county councilman said. "It's going to present some unique challenges."
Granato, who lost his U.S. Senate bid last year to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, estimated it will cost as much as $800,000 to run for county mayor, an amount he said he can raise.
"If I get in the race, I'm in it to win it. I don't look at it as an uphill battle. I look at it as one of business skills and business sense," Granato said.
West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder, who took office last year, said he's not surprised there's already a lot of interest in the county mayor's race.
"Open seats will do that," he said. "It's the largest county in the state. It's the second largest budget in the state. It's an opportunity where a Democrat can realistically win or a Republican can realistically win."
Romero said a key factor in his decision whether to run for county mayor will be the results of this year's redistricting of legislative and congressional districts.
Democrats, he said, are likely to lose one of the seven seats they now hold in the 29-member state Senate. "It's appropriate to look at where else I can continue to serve as a Democrat," Romero said.
Ott said he's looking for a new challenge after a decade as county recorder. "I've got the recorder's office working extremely well," he said. "It's very likely I can have this job as long as I want it."
Corroon's decision to step down after two terms, through presented what he said may well be an irresistible opportunity. "I love Corroon," the Republican said. "This isn't a partisan thing. … I'm convinced I can do a really good job for the county."
The current county mayor said he understands the interest in his job and that it's not too soon for his would-be successors to start campaigning.
"It's a great job," Corroon said. "It's a big county with over a million people in it. In order to reach out to as many people as you can, you have to start — the earlier, the better."