In a race marked by bitter claims and counterclaims, Democrat Paul Van Dam said he became Utah's new attorney general because voters perceived two-term incumbent David Wilkinson as a weak prosecutor.
But Wilkinson said he lost because Van Dam outspent him "two- or three-to-one."Van Dam became the only Democrat to win a job in state government Tuesday. In a mild upset, two-term incumbent Republican Ed Alter eclipsed Democratic challenger Art Monson for the job of state treasurer. Republican State Auditor Tom Allen also won a second term, defeating Democratic challenger Arthur Miller.
Van Dam, who will return to office 10 years after deciding not to seek re-election as Salt Lake County attorney, said hard work and heavy media exposure helped his campaign. He had trailed Wilkinson in opinion polls through most of the race.
According to complete, but unofficial returns with all of the voting districts reporting, Van Dam had received 329,086 votes, or 52 percent. Wilkinson received 299,812 votes, 48 percent.
The results showed Van Dam won by a wide margin in Salt Lake County. Wilkinson's largest support came from Utah and Washington counties.
Van Dam said he won because voters appeared to be concerned about Utah's alleged image as a center for fraud and corruption in private business.
"I think it occurred to them that maybe it would be good to have someone with prosecutorial experience in the attorney general's office," Van Dam said.
Wilkinson, the son of former Brigham Young University President Ernest L. Wilkinson, blamed his loss on a lack of money. He was particularly displeased about a $37,000 donation Van Dam received from the Utah Public Employees Association. Wilkinson had said the donation would tarnish the integrity of the attorney general's office if Van Dam was elected.
Wilkinson said Tuesday his campaign was hurt by several last-minute Van Dam television advertisements. Wilkinson did not advertise on television.
Van Dam discounted the claim that money was the biggest factor in the race.
"If Mr. Wilkinson was here I would say, `Be serious,' " Van Dam said. "He (Wilkinson) is mad because this is the first time someone outfund-raised him."
Alter had trailed Monson in most pre-election polls. But a woman who said she was an independent watchdog filed a lawsuit against Monson last week alleging the Democrat violated financial disclosure laws. That led to a spate of negative advertisements on both sides.
Monson called the lawsuit "spurious" Tuesday night, saying it was calculated to harm him in the election.
"Negative campaigning worked," he said. "It worked for George Bush and it worked for my opponent."
However, voters had other issues to help them decide between the candidates. Monson promised to invest most of the state's money in Utah banks, saying the investments would help the economy and lead to larger tax returns for the state.
He called the plan "Monsonomics" and said it would particularly help struggling rural areas. The need to help the economy should outweigh the need to earn large returns, he said.
Alter said he would continue to invest the state's money where he could earn the greatest return. If Utah's banks received more state money, they would only invest that money in the places Alter now is investing, he said.
With all of voting districts counted, Alter had received 327,080 votes, or 54 percent. Monson received 279,264 votes, 46 percent.
Monson will retain his job as Salt Lake County treasurer, where he has served since 1974.
Allen won easily over Miller, a former Triad America Corp. official who spent little money on his campaign.
Allen, a soft-spoken Kaysville resident who gardens and raises rabbits as a hobby, had received 365,688 votes, or 62 percent, with all of the voting districts counted. Democrat Miller received 227,024 votes, or 38 percent.