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.
• Mark Crockett is a management consultant who served one term on the Salt Lake County Council, from 2005-2008, before being unseated by Democrat Jani Iwamoto.
• Larry Decker is an internal auditor in the Salt Lake County Auditor's Office and the only candidate in the race without previous experience in elected office.
"With that many candidates, it's often hard to predict the (convention) dynamics," Burbank said. "They might end up with a consensus candidate, but my guess is you'll see two candidates who are strong."
Among county residents generally, Burbank sees the office of county mayor as somewhat confusing because so many residents live in the boundaries of a city that also has a mayor.
But inside political circles, the office has a high profile because it is an executive position with governance of a large population with diverse and high-profile issues including taxes, mental health services, air quality, water quality, and arts and recreation.
"It can also be a big stepping stone if you are thinking about running for governor or something like that," Burbank said.
Spending in the race so far shows the candidates understand that, as of April 5 pre-convention financial disclosures. The two Democrats, so far, have raised more than twice as much — and spent more than twice as much — as all six Republicans.
McAdams is in the lead, raising $135,659 and spending $101,895. Romero is next, raising $131,013 and spending $86,350 so far.
Winder is third among the entire field, and top among Republicans, raising $50,759 and spending $43,914. He is followed closely in fundraising by Crockett, who has raised $49,580 and spent $32,391; Snelgrove has raised $10,306 and spent just $2,855; Cook has raised $7,738 and spent $7,134; Ott has raised $3,673 and spent all of it; Decker has declared he will run a low-cost campaign, spending less than $2,000.
Salt Lake County Council Races
Deligates will also narrow the field in the race for Iwamoto's District 4 seat on the County Council. There are four Democrats: Jeff Hatch, the former Salt Lake County Auditor; Sam Granato, a former U.S. Senate candidate and former Utah Liquor Control Commission member; Paul Nielson, an attorney for Salt Lake City; and Deb Henry, an Occupy SLC activist. Republicans are Craig Ward, owner of an accounting services business; Rainer Huck, who describes himself as a public lands activist; and Missy W. Larsen, daughter of former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson and sister to County Council member Jenny Wilson, both Democrats.
GOP delegates will winnow the field of candidates challenging Democrat Jim Bradley for the at-large seat on the council. They are Joseph M. Demma, communications director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services and 2010 campaign manager for Gov. Gary Herbert; Stephen M. "Steve" Harmsen, a former county councilman; and Melvin Nimer, president of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans.
Salt Lake, Utah County legislative races
Only one Salt Lake County legislative race, for Senate District 8, has multiple candidates from both parties going into Saturday's conventions. The GOP candidates are Lee Brinton, Brian Shiozawa and Jaren Davis. The Democrats are Ty McCartney and Josie Valdez, wife of Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray.
Other Democrats going head-to-head in Salt Lake County legislative races are all after House seats: Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, and challenger Richard Goldberger in the race for District 24; Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake, and challenger Angela Romero in the race for District 26; and Rep. Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley, and challenger Liz Muniz in the race for District 36.
On the GOP side, besides Senate District 8 that intra-party challenges for Senate seats are Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, and challenger Brandon Baker in the race for District 6; and Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, challenged by Aleta Andersen Taylor in District 10.3 comments on this story
In Utah County, only Republicans are involved with in-party challenges for Utah County Senate seats. Diedre Henderson and Glen W. Roberts are in the contest for Senate District 7; Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, and Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, in the race for District 14. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is being challenged by Andrew Holmes in District 16.
In House races, Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, is being challenged by Dana Layton and Jacob A.J. Siebach in District 60.