Neal Gunnarson had a fatal weakness in the Salt Lake County district attorney Republican primary election: his failure to prosecute Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini for the "Giftgate" scandal.
Challenger Mark Griffin took full advantage of it, hammering the point home time after time in campaign appearances. As a result, he overcame the odds and the predictions, beating Gunnarson handily.Griffin won't be able to use the same strategy against his next opponent, Democrat David Yocom, who preceded Gunnarson as district attorney. What's more, despite the exposure Griffin received in the primary campaign, Yocom holds the early edge over him in a recent Deseret News poll.
The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, shows Griffin trailing Yocom by a 6 percent margin, with a 4 percent margin of error.
Yocom enjoys better name recognition than Griffin, a political newcomer who is director of the Utah Division of Securities.
"My platform's out there," Griffin said. "I won't withdraw it. I am the candidate who can get the district attorney's legal work back on track."
As for his showing in the poll, Griffin pointed out that a Deseret News poll published before the primary predicted he would lose to Gunnarson by 12 points. (Prior to the primary, pollster Jones pointed out that low voter turnout could result in large deviations from poll results.)
"After we came out of the primary in a landslide when we were predicted to lose, I have come to suspect all polls," Griffin said. "This early in the election, six points is nothing."
A side note: According to the poll, Gunnarson would have fared much better against Yocom. In a Gunnarson/Yocom race, 46 percent would vote for Gunnarson with 33 percent for Yocom.
In the Salt Lake County Commission races, the poll showed Republican incumbent Mary Callaghan ahead of Democrat Karen Crompton almost 2 to 1 - again, name recognition playing a large part at this early stage.
Callaghan survived the political fight of her life in the Republican primary, edging challenger Wendy Smith by only 153 votes out of 37,411. She said her next move will be to regroup, sit down with her advisers and talk strategy.
Republican Mark Shurtleff, who beat Steve Harmsen in the primary, leads Democrat Mike Reberg by 14 percentage points.
Reberg's reaction: "I'm ecstatic. I think that's great for me to only be down 14 points, after the two Republicans have put up a large number of billboards and lawn signs and gone through a primary. They have spent a lot of money and time getting their names out."
Throughout the primary campaign, Reberg said he felt like the Jazz (who waited more than a week to find out who they would play in the NBA finals), sitting around cooling his heels waiting to see whether he would face Harmsen or Shurtleff.
The boost given to Republicans because of the primary is likely to diminish somewhat as the general election gears up. Things are likely to slow down during the summer, when candidates concentrate more on grassroots campaigning, but they'll speed up again in the fall when they start relying more on media ads, lawn signs and billboards.
"We're going to do the summer circuit: parades, fairs," Reberg said. "Later, in the fall, we'll put the big media campaign together. . . . I can't wait to start talking with Mark Shurtleff about issues."
Deseret News Poll
If the general election were held today, for whom would you vote?
S.L. County Commission Seat A
Mary Callaghan (R) 52%
Karen Crompton (D) 29%
Don't Know 19%
S.L. County Commission Seat B
Mark Shurtleff (R) 39%
Mike Reberg (D) 25%
Cabot Nelson (L) 4%
Don't Know 31%
S.L. District Attorney
Davbid Yocom (D) 37%
Mark Griffin (R) 31%
Victor Cordon (IA) 6%
Don't Know 26%
Poll of registered voters in Salt Lake County was conducted June 13-19 with a margin of error +/- 4.0 by Dan Jones & Associates, an independent polling firm whose clients include other organizations and sometimes political parties and candidates.
Copyright Deseret News, 1998