Ted Wilson, who lost a close race Nov. 8 for the governor's seat, says he should have won but believes several factors conspired against him.
"The main issue of the campaign changed completely the last month (before the election)," Wilson said Friday after reviewing a just-released poll taken by the Bangerter campaign - a post-election poll aimed at finding out why Utahns voted Bangerter back into office.Said Wilson: "We were talking about Utah's future, about economic development. That was the main issue. But it changed to who would best spend taxpayers' money."
That change was forced on Wilson by an aggressive Bangerter campaign and, in an unintentional way, by former Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson and his anti-tax initiative campaign. "Bangerter wanted to talk tax-and-spend. Even though I believe my rec-ord is equal or better than Norm's, it's natural in a conservative state to believe a Republican is more fiscally conservative than a Democrat.
"When Scott talked about killing the tax initiatives, the debate naturally changed to who would best spend the taxes we already had.
"We lost by about 12,000 votes, so I have to say we could have won it. But when the issue changed, we couldn't react quickly enough. In a way, we probably couldn't have done anything about" the shift in issues, said Wilson.
"If a Utah race becomes a tax-and-spend campaign, it is very difficult for a Democrat, any Democrat, to win. That is a Republican issue in this state," said Wilson, who has returned as the the director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, a post he took a leave of absence from to run for governor.
Friday, Bangerter campaign manager Dave Buhler released a new Dan Jones & Associates poll that showed, among other things, that the governor's campaign message was well received and successful.
Rob Jolley, Wilson's campaign manager, said his campaign made one big mistake.
"We should never have shown Ted and Bangerter together against the tax initiatives." Wilson and Bangerter both opposed the initiatives, which failed along with independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook's anti-tax campaign.
Wilson and Bangerter actually made a TV spot together asking Utahns to vote against the initiatives. The spot never ran, partly because Wilson aides thought it would harm Wilson, but the media reported on the filming of the ad and throughout debates among the three contenders Wilson and Bangerter repeated their opposition to the initiatives while Cook strongly supported them.
"By showing Ted and Norm together, people thought: `If they're so alike, why should I vote for a Democrat over a Republican,' " Jolley said.
The movement to kill the tax initiatives at the polls was a bipartisan effort. But its spokesman was Matheson, who appeared in TV ads near the end of the campaign asking Utahns to vote against the measures.
Wilson said Matheson's high profile in the anti-tax limitation campaign _ a campaign which the former governor often said was more important than the outcome of the governor's race _ inadvertently helped Bangerter.
"Scott didn't mean to, it just happened that way. The movement to defeat the tax initiatives convinced voters that what they disliked most about Norm _ his tax increases _ should be forgiven," said Wilson. "If you voted against the tax initiatives, you were in effect saying the tax increases were needed. And if you figured that, then it was difficult to be angry at the governor for suggesting them in the first place."
The natural tendency to vote Republican in Utah then took over, Wilson believes, and that's what 40 percent of the voters did. Bangerter got 40 percent of the vote, Wilson 38 percent and Cook got 21 percent of the vote.