Billboards lead to brouhaha in Salt Lake County mayor race

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 15 2012 9:26 p.m. MDT

In this July 25 file photo, Ben McAdams, left, greets Mayor Russ Wall of Taylorsville as "Republicans for Ben McAdams" hold a press conference on a median in the road in Murray.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Not everyone is amused by a campaign billboard that pokes fun at a conservative lobbying organization.

A billboard for Salt Lake County mayoral candidate Ben McAdams on I-15 near 3300 South reads "Eagle Scout, Not Eagle Forum." It's one in a series of billboards designed to convey to voters that McAdams is a different kind of Democrat.

"In any campaign, you've got to reach out to the voters and tell them who you are," McAdams said Wednesday. "We wanted to tell them that this is a different election, and I'm a different candidate. We thought, what better way than to say it exactly like that?"

Each of the billboards include the slogan, "Yeah, he's different," underneath phrases such as, "Fiscal Conservative. Democrat."; and "Democratic Candidate. Republican Support."

"My political values are really in line with the average Utah voter, Republican or Democrat," McAdams said. "The far-right ideology, the tea party, Eagle Forum mentality is not reflective of Utah values."

Mark Crockett, the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County mayor, says he believes McAdams misfired with the billboard. By pointing fingers at the conservative Eagle Forum, McAdams is "looking at (the race) through the same old political lens that we have for too long in the past," he said.

"It misses the whole point of the county," Crockett said. "The county is a service organization, and it needs to stop being political."

The Republican candidate also turned to Twitter in an effort to use the billboard against McAdams.

"As county mayor, I will welcome every group to the table when creating solutions to the challenges (Salt Lake) County faces," Crockett posted on his Twitter page Wednesday.

"Everybody has the right to speak; everybody has their views," Crockett said in an interview Wednesday. "Calling names in the middle of a campaign seems like bad judgement."

Gayle Ruzicka, president Utah Eagle Forum, said she was confused by the billboard.

"I'm not sure what the billboard means when it says that he's different," she said. "He's a Democrat. I know lots of Democrats who are Eagle Scouts, but maybe he thinks he's the only one."

Ruzicka also joked if McAdams really wanted to be different, he'd join the Eagle Forum.

"Not a lot of Democrats are part of Eagle Forum," she said.

McAdams said most of the feedback he's received about the billboard has been positive. He posted a photo of the billboard design on his Facebook page Tuesday night. By Wednesday evening, more than 200 people had "liked" or commented on it.

"It's always a challenge in a billboard to have just a few seconds to communicate a message to people in a catchy way that's memorable," McAdams said. "We want to show them that I'm a different candidate and that my values are in line with the majority of Utahns."

The brouhaha over McAdams' billboards comes a day after the Crockett campaign sent an email to supporters with the subject line, "Don't let Bill Clinton take over Salt Lake County."

The email informed Crockett supporters about former President Bill Clinton's appearance at a fundraiser for McAdams at the Grand America Hotel on Monday, adding roughly $110,000 to the Democrat's war chest.

"It’s clear the Democrats are willing to call in the big guns to maintain their hold on Salt Lake County, but together we can send a message that Utahns believe in limited government," the email reads.

Sen. Orrin Hatch and West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder are holding a joint fundraiser for Crockett at noon Friday at the Alta Club, 100 E. South Temple.

"From Mitt Romney to Mark Crockett, our party is putting up an impressive slate of candidates this fall," Hatch said in a news release. "I'm excited to support Mark and help win Salt Lake County back for the GOP."

Campaign officials said tickets still remain for the $250 per plate event.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com, aadams@ksl.com

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