Three of every 10 people are undecided when it comes to whether Republican Mike Stewart should be given a third four-year term on the Salt Lake County Commission - a statistic Democrats view as heartening.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV shows Stewart with a slim lead over Democratic challenger Jim Bradley, 38 percent to 32 percent, in one of two commission races this year. The poll, conducted April 21, surveyed 374 randomly selected people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.The poll was taken before Democratic Commissioner Dave Watson was forced to drop out of his race for re-election to the two-year seat after being arrested May 15 on suspicion of drunk driving and possession of cocaine.
Although Watson was in a separate race, Bradley said he does not know if the incident will affect the campaign against Stewart. Bradley said he may be helped if Watson decides to resign from the commission, but that appeared unlikely Tuesday afternoon.
"I think people are going to look more closely at my race because of that (Watson's arrest)," Bradley said Tuesday. "I'm not sure what that means to my campaign, but I need to attract attention to my issues."
Bradley said he is happy to be so close to the two-term incumbent and to have a large block of undecided voters to pursue.
"There is a mood out there for change," he said. "To me it says that people still are unable to identify any positive goals or direction with Stewart. One would expect after eight years an incumbent would have something to hang his hat on."
Stewart, however, is not panicking. He said he has been only six to eight points ahead of opponents in early stages of previous campaigns.
"People just don't know yet," he said. "When the campaigns begin, people will see and make decisions."
Stewart is encouraged by one aspect of the poll that shows people most likely to vote favor him 48 percent to 31 percent.
Stewart, a college history professor before being elected in 1980, said he relishes a chance to talk about the good things county government has done in recent years. The county is running more efficiently with fewer employees, and divisions are working together thanks in part to his leadership, he said.
But Bradley, a consultant who once was state energy director under former Gov. Scott Matheson, sees things differently. In his view, voters should be tired of the way county government has stagnated under Republican rule. They should be sick of the scandals that have come to light involving misuse of taxpayer money, he said.
He is likely to point out that Stewart was the commissioner in charge of the Salt Palace for much of the past eight years and hired director Doug Knudsen, who recently was convicted of misusing public money.
Stewart, however, said the Salt Palace problems were the result of embezzlement and conspiracy, not mismanagement.
"You can never eliminate embezzlement in cases where you have complicity," Stewart said.
He would rather focus attention on how he has helped social service agencies work together to help the public. Through a program called Argosy, county workers are helping schools break the cycle of poor performance and poverty that often is handed from one generation to the next, he said.
Bradley, who once worked in the county's alcohol and drug division, wants to also emphasize the need for greater economic development.
"The West is the new economic frontier of the country," he said. "We could be nothing but a boulder in the stream if we don't look at all the elements that affect economic development."
But Stewart, who last year was elected fourth vice president in the National Association of Counties, said he could do more for economic growth.
"I've learned some economic development tricks I didn't know before," he said. "That does more for Utah than it will ever do for me."