Crowded Salt Lake County mayor's contest among races that will thin in Saturday's partisan conventions

Parties will pick 1 or 2 candidates for key position

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Political experience in the Salt Lake County mayoral race is as deep as the field is wide with five of the eight candidates currently in other elected offices and two others among the elected alumni.

The field will narrow by at least half during Saturday's partisan conventions and bring answers to interesting questions about the next step in the process: Will Democratic Party delegates subject their two candidates, both state senators, to the effort and expense of a primary? Will a convention contest among so many GOP candidates — six of them — make it inevitable the Republicans will also have a primary?

There are also a 17 contested legislative races that will capture attention at the county conventions.

The mayor's race is important for both parties, said Matthew J. Burbank, associate professor of political science at the University of Utah.

He predicts the Democrats will advance only one candidate from the convention. Their choices are:

• Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, the first Democrat in the race, who is giving up his Senate seat to campaign for mayor.

• Sen. Ben McAdams, the minority caucus manager, who has two years left in his Senate term and surprised many in the party by also getting in the mayoral race.

But Burbank's forecast about the Democrats is made with some big caveats: Utah's significantly smaller party may send both candidates to a primary to avoid the appearance it couldn't muster more than one good candidate.

And though a primary means an additional contest and expense, it also means more election-season name exposure for the candidate who ends up on the November ballot. Avoiding a primary, however, means the successful candidate has more control over how to spend campaign funds through the primary season.

Two-term incumbent Mayor Peter Corroon, also a Democrat, is ending his time in office with a positive fiscal record and good pubic image. Democrats see that as an opportunity to follow on. It sends the message: "You could elect a Democrat and your taxes won't go up dramatically," Burbank said.

A primary contest between Romero and McAdams would also let a broader pool of voters — not just the delegates — decide whom they like best. "At least with these two candidates, I don't think it would become a nasty primary," Burbank said. "A lot of Democrats looking at this race are hoping this works out well, because they like both of them."

Any bigger-party advantage among the Republicans is also likely to be augmented by a heightened Republican voter turnout locally in November if Mitt Romney leads the GOP ticket in the presidential race.

But first: Republican delegates will engage in several rounds of sifting among candidates with varied political backgrounds Saturday when they meet at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

• Gary Ott, the elected Salt Lake County recorder for the past 10 years, hopes for two terms as mayor, "tweaking" in office while mostly keeping a steady course, and then retiring.

• Former 2nd District Congressman Merrill Cook is back in the race after losing to Corroon in 2004. He's unmatched in campaign experience: This race is his 14th for public office.

• Richard Snelgrove is a current Salt Lake County Council member and seasoned campaigner as well as Salt Lake County and state GOP party chairman. His campaign experience includes unsuccessful races for Congress, one for the Utah House and a previous County Council race.

• Mike Winder is the current first-term mayor of West Valley City. He faces his first political selection process after coming under scrutiny for using the fabricated name Richard Burwash to plant news stories. He is also a defendant in a federal defamation lawsuit because of an article he wrote under the Burwash name.

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