SOUTH JORDAN — Mike Winder's phone started ringing about 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Supporters of the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County mayor were calling to tell him they'd seen campaign signs for Richard Burwash, the fictional name Winder used in 2010 and 2011 to get stories published by local media outlets, including the Deseret News and KSL.com.
A handful of the signs have been spotted in the Salt Lake Valley, posted next to those of Winder. Aside from the font used on the fictional candidate's name and the word "mayor," the Burwash campaign signs are identical to Winder's.
"I wish the new candidate in the county mayor's race well," Winder wrote on his Facebook page, "and hope he lets me have one of his signs after June 26 as a souvenir."
"There is obviously some humor in it," Winder said when asked for his opinion on the signs. "But they got the font wrong."
As of Wednesday afternoon, no one had stepped forward to take credit for the signs. The respective campaigns of the other Salt Lake County mayoral candidates, Republican Mark Crockett and Democrat Ben McAdams, denied involvement.
"They're really well done," said Ashley Sumner, McAdams' communications director. "Whoever did them obviously put a lot of work into them."
In April, a flier sent out by the McAdams campaign listed "Richard Burwash" among Salt Lake County residents who support the Democratic candidate for mayor. Sumner said the mailer was "a last-minute add-in as a joke."
"It was not meant to be hurtful," she said.
But Sumner said the McAdams campaign is "absolutely not" responsible for the latest prank. "We definitely have a lot more important things to do right now," she said.
Crockett said his campaign isn't behind the signs, either. The former Salt Lake County councilman said he learned about the signs Wednesday afternoon when asked about them by the Deseret News.
"That sounds funny, but it wasn't us," he said.
Winder's handling of the latest prank earned the candidate praise from those who commented on the photo on Facebook.
"If that is the worst thing they can say about you, I think you are doing pretty good," Scott Bohn wrote on Winder's Facebook page.
Jesse Harris shared the photo on his own Facebook page.
"That Mike chose to post this shows he's got a sense of humor about the situation and is willing to take his lumps," Harris wrote.
The Alliance for a Better UTAH, a progressive government watchdog group, issued a statement Wednesday criticizing Winder's handling of the Burwash incident, saying "lying to voters is no laughing matter."
"We understand that Mr. Winder is hoping that by laughing the scandal off, then voters will do the same," said Maryann Martindale, the group's executive director. "The reality is that he lied to his constituents and the people of Utah. And no matter how well-meaning his intentions may have been, it is completely inappropriate for him to say that he wants the issue to just go away."
No matter who's behind the signs, Winder said his campaign will remain "positive and issues-based, talking about a positive future for Salt Lake County."
"But that doesn't mean we can't laugh at tricks along the way that others would try," he said.
The Republican primary between Winder and Crockett is set for June 26. The winner will advance to the Nov. 6 general election against McAdams.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company