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Democrats return to UDOT issue in guv race; GOP says it's a losing strategy

Published: Saturday, May 12 2012 5:42 p.m. MDT

Herbert's campaign manager, Scott Ericson, said voters should see "there is some lazy campaigning going on, some desperate campaigning" that amounts to exploiting a personnel issue.

"It's coincidental that it's UDOT again that's come up," Ericson said, calling the Graham case "a personnel issue that the campaign has no control over. It's something Jim Dabakis and the Democrats are trying to politicize and it's unfair to do. It's a legal issue."

Graham's attorney, Brad Bearnson, said neither she nor her legal counsel sought the support of the Democrats, but it made all the difference.

"It certainly greased the wheels to force UDOT's hands to do what they should have done in the first place," Bearnson said. 

On Friday, Graham said she had resolved the final issues surrounding her return to state employment.

Ericson, Herbert's campaign manager,  said the issue won't sway voters who "will see that this woman has been off for a year.  If she really wanted her job back, she'd be back at work" instead of having negotiated over pay and other details.

Instead, both Wright and Ericson said the governor's actions in the case will be seen as an example of his deliberative leadership.

"Leadership isn't standing up and being loud and firing people left and right when a mistake is made," Ericson said.  "The real question is what you do to rectify the situation going forward."

Wright said voters "will see what they saw in 2010, and that's a governor who's very thoughtful and careful and not quick to judgment. … Nobody likes somebody who blames another person, especially when it's not true."

University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless said Herbert's handling of UDOT and other issues is fair game because the governor is campaigning on the state's status as the best-managed in the country.

"The vulnerability at this stage is there are still charges that are still lingering, still smoldering, from two years ago," Chambless said. "When we see problems of mismanagement, a number of them, then it starts to create what the lawyers call a preponderance of evidence."

Even before Cooke entered the race, Dabakis was slamming Herbert for mismanagement at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Several top DABC officials have left or been let go following probes into how tax dollars were spent.

Still, the Democrats say they recognize they can push the issue too far.

"We have to get our message out there that this isn't personal," Dabakis said. Whatver the party says about Herbert, he said, should be about "just pointing out the facts."

Besides, the Democratic Party can't afford to launch a negative advertising campaign, Dabakis said, describing the party as having to find other ways of getting out its message.

"We're in a kind of guerilla warfare," he said. "We have to scrounge, we have to hunt around."

Cooke stressed he's not coordinating his campaign with the Democratic Party.

"They have their own separate way of making the message. I can't control the Democratic Party. I'm an independent candidate," Cooke said, pledging not to engage in negative campaigning.

"The positive thing you'll see from my campaign is why I feel I am the better leader," he said. "I am not going to run negative campaign ads. I don’t' think the people of Utah want to see that. They want to see a strong leader."

Wright said trying to separate any negative message from the candidate is a bad strategy for the Democrats.

"Because at some point, Peter Cooke may want to have a constructive dialog," the GOP chairman said. "How is he going to do that with Dabakis bomb-throwing in the background?"

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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