Cooke struggles to gain traction in race against governor

Published: Saturday, Oct. 27 2012 4:32 p.m. MDT

Democrats have been largely focused on the state's most competitive races, for the new 4th District seat in Congress and for Salt Lake County mayor. Both races are seen as too close to call.

State GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said Cooke is making the same mistake Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon made two years ago when he ran against Herbert in a special election for the remainder of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term.

Corroon lost decisively to Herbert after running what was widely criticized as a negative campaign centered on questions about the connection between the governor's donor list and state contracts.

"It's been disappointing to watch Peter Cooke do nothing to put forward a plan of what he would do as governor and just criticize the governor," Wright said. "I guess they didn't learn their lesson."

He said Cooke would have been better off coming out in favor of a tax increase to fund education.

"At least he would have mobilized his base and energized his base, and gotten some positive traction for an agenda," Wright said. "I have respect for any Democrat who comes up with a message."

This election, Herbert didn't even hit the campaign trail until just over a week ago, when he made a swing through much of the state over several days.

Is that a sign of confidence in the election results?

"Well, I've always said good government and good governing is good campaigning. It makes the messaging a lot easier," Herbert said. "You don't have to go out and campaign for the job of coach if your team is winning."

Herbert said education has always been a priority in his administration. He also supports local control for schools and accountability within the system.

"Evidence suggests that spending money on education is not enough," the governor says on his website.

The governor said while this has "been a much more pleasant race" than he faced in 2010, his campaign was compelled to contact Cooke's about the tone of recent advertising.

"We did what he invited us to do. That's all we have to say about it," Herbert said, noting a meeting he had with Cooke early in the race where keeping campaign advertising was discussed.

Cooke's campaign responded by issuing a press release saying their efforts were "hitting a nerve" with the governor. Herbert stopped short of commenting on how Cooke was running his campaign.

"Campaigns are tough," the governor said. "It's a tough thing for me, too. You do what you think is in the best interest of getting your message out. … I understand, he and his people need to do what they think is the best thing."

Cooke said he doesn't believe his campaign has been successful in focusing attention on the issues he believes are important. He blames a lack of resources for not being able to get his message to voters.

"They don't hear it because I have $350,000. He has $2 million," Cooke said, adding he expects the governor to spend five times as much in advertising.

He started to talk about more money being the answer, but stopped himself mid-sentence. "This is whining. It is what it is, the campaign is. You run against an incumbent, you're going against a huge organization."

Quin Monson, director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said Cooke doesn't have a strong enough message to attract the kind of campaign cash he needs to reach voters.

"He's doesn't have the 'silver bullet,' and that keeps him from raising the money that allows him to deliver his message," Monson said. "That's a tough spot to be in. It doesn't mean he's not a good candidate."

Whatever happens Election Day, Cooke said, he's had a fair shot.

"Whatever I've done as a campaign, I'll take that on me. I don't blame others," he said. "I'm frustrated because I just want to do what's good for the state."

TOMORROW: Read about the high-profile race for Salt Lake County mayor, in Monday's Deseret News.

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

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