In the last two weeks of any campaign, two things are dreaded by a candidate: Voters being reminded of old, harmful images of him and/or seeing his issues melt away under news good for his challenger.
Sometimes a candidate has control over such news, more often he doesn't.As the Utah governor's race rushes to its conclusion, both Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter and Democrat Ted Wilson are watching and worrying.
Two issues that could embarrass Bangerter - stopping the pumps on the Great Salt Lake and new state surpluses - could arrive before Election Day.
Wilson isn't so concerned about his past. After all, he has dodged one bullet already. The Select Telephone Technologies scandal that rocked his mayoral administration is finally being resolved, and the federal government is returning $2.5 million, which was lost in the scandal, to the city - a strange turnaround.
No, Wilson's concern is how well things are going now in Utah. No challenger likes a satisfied public.
The economy seems to be coming back. Unemployment in the state is down. Inflation is down. If voters turn to GOP presidential candidate George Bush because they're relatively satisfied with how America is being run, the tendency maybe to vote for Bangerter also.
Wilson doesn't want any more good economic news, that's for sure. But he has no control over that.
Bangerter does have some control over his bugaboos _ lake pumping and state surpluses. Neither is critical to his campaign. Neither necessarily means a stallin the momentum Bangerter believes he enjoys going into the final weeks. But they're the kind of pesky items that recall bad days of criticism.
Earlier this month, the lake was measured at 4,206.7 feet above sea level. State officials agreed with the U.S. Air Force to turn off the three huge pumps when the lake was below 4,206.7 feet. The Air Force's bombing range is partially flooded by the water pumped into the West Desert, and it doesn't want the range flooded any longer than needed.
State natural resource officials want to pump the lake lower so waterfowl habitat can be reclaimed, a road rebuilt to Antelope Island and other lakeside improvements made. So the decision was made to keep the pumps going until the next lake-level reading.
It's fair to say Bangerter is sensitive to the whole pumping issue. When the lake was about to wash out the freeway, railroads and sewer plants, Bangerter recommended to the Legislature that $70 million be spent on the pumps. Lawmakers agreed. But a dry-weather cycle set in the last two years and many Monday-morningquarterbacks are now second-guessing Bangerter.
A new lake-level reading will be made Nov. 1, as it is taken the first of every month. Usually, the lake is going up at this time of year, as fall rains bring more runoff. But if the weather remains dry, the lake may well be below 4,206.7 feet. Then we'll see if the pumps are turned off, and whether the whole issue of Bangerter and the Legislature spending $70 million to pump the lake is brought up just before the Nov. 8 election, something the governor can't welcome.
The second concern is state revenues. Bangerter and lawmakers were embarrassed earlier this year when _ on the heels of a $165 million tax hike _ the state collected $110 million more than anticipated. Most of the money was returned through income tax rebate checks.
About this time in every fiscal year, state budget officers have a feel for where the state is going, if a small surplus or deficit looms. Some rumors have surfaced that a $15 milllion-to-$20 million surplus may be developing.
But Bangerter administration officials steadfastly maintain that, while salextax collections are coming in a bit better than anticipated, it is too soon to say whether a substantial surplus will occur. They point out that even an additional $20 million in revenue amounts to less than 1 percent of the total state budget, little more than a statistical blip, compared with the billions collected by the state. While that's true, it's the perception at election time that the state has, again, a multimillion-dollar surplus that could harm not only the governor but the fight against the tax-cutting initiatives that are on the ballot.
The state won't have firm estimates on revenues until later in October, and state officials promise some statement on a surplus before the election.