A tough TV advertisement by Democrat Ted Wilson criticizing Gov. Norm Bangerter, perhaps the hardest seen in a local race, starts running this week. It will raise some eyebrows, if not the hackles of Republican leaders.
Wilson still leads in the three-way governor's race, polls show. But his support has been slipping steadily the past month. The new ad, which doesn't mention Wilson at all, is aimed at reminding Utahns why they give the governor poor job-performance ratings and why they once favored Wilson over Bangerter by 30 points in the polls.That lead has now shrunk to seven points, the latest Deseret News/KSL-TV pollshows, and Wilson's campaign officials don't want it to shrink any more.
Wilson is spending between $40,000 and $45,000 on running the ad on local TV stations this week. He'll decide later if the ad will run next week and through to the Nov. 8 election.
He's also running several new pro-Wilson advertisements, outlining what he wants to do for the state if elected and emphasizing what he did for Salt Lake City when he was mayor for 10 years. But it's the ad critical of Bangerter that will likely get people's attention.
As a picture of the governor flips back and forth across the TV screen _ to symbolize an indecisive nature _ the governor's mistakes, as seen by the Wilson camp, are listed.
"Our next governor must get Utah moving again," says the announcer in starting the ad. "Is that man Norm Bangerter?"
Bangerter inherited a $100 million surplus, only to waste it on pumping the Great Salt Lake, the ad says. He failed to invest in Utah's future.
He promised not to raise taxes for two years, then gave the citizens their largest tax increase in the state's history, only to turn around and give part of it back in an election-year ploy, it says.
The 30-second ad ends with: "If Norm Bangerter doesn't know where he is going, how does he know where to take Utah?"
The ad is targeted to two classes of voters, said Rob Jolley, Wilson's campaign manager.
First, Wilson wants to reach those voters who are in independent Merrill Cook's camp _ the ones who may decide in the voting booth that their man can't win, and so will decide whether to vote for Bangerter or Wilson. "We want them to remember why they dislike the governor; what he did," said Jolley.
Bangerter is clearly trying to convince Cook voters, many of whom are traditional Republicans, that they should come home to the Republican Party. An ad Bangerter is running now has President Ronald Reagan asking that Utah Republicans vote for Bangerter. A later ad by Sen. Jake Garn will exhort Republicans to rejectCook _ a man who turned his back on the party and ran as an independent.
Secondly, Wilson wants to shore up his support among some independents and the undecided voters who may dislike or distrust Bangerter but whose faith in Wilson may have been shaken recently by attacks by the governor.
"Norm has been pounding us with negative ads and statements all summer. Now we're taking the gloves off and answering," said Jolley.
Dave Buhler, Bangerter' campaign manager, said this week that the governor doesn't plan to run any TV ads criticizing Wilson, although he is running some tough radio advertisements that do just that. But critical campaigning usually breeds a like response, so Bangerter may respond with a TV ad attacking Wilson.
"As we always do," said Jolley, "we ran this ad past our focus groups. No one said it was negative."
That may be wishful thinking. The ad hits Bangerter hard on "hot-button" issues that have dogged the governor and caused his unpopularity among some voters _ pumping the lake and raising taxes. Wilson's name isn't mentioned, and some less-attentive TV viewers may not even know who ran the advertisement. That wouldbe fine by Wilson's camp, which would be glad to have Bangerter seen in a bad light without Wilson taking any blame for it.