The Utah governor's race is heating up, with Gov. Norm Bangerter, who trails Democrat Ted Wilson in the polls, starting to take the fight to Wilson.
It's an expected move, Wilson said - Bangerter is so far behind he has to do something - but Wilson said he won't be drawn into answering Bangerter's criticisms "unless he does something really crazy, really off base, and then I'll defend myself."The governor said he's not off base at all, just drawing attention to the strong differences between himself and Wilson while "exposing" Wilson's 10- year record as Salt Lake City mayor.
Bangerter and Wilson have been traveling the state the past several weeks, attending their parties' county coventions. The governor has a set speech, which he varies for the different Republican audiences.
"He is being forthright and strong." said Bangerter compaigh manager Dave Buhler. "He is drawing several differences. Our strategy is to show Republicans what the differences are, to bring them home" to the governor's camp.
Buhler admits that the language is sometimes tough. "But remember our audience. These are party people who understand what is going on" in politics. In other words, they can handle the more critical rhetoric.
Here are some of Bangerter's themes:
-Personal background. The governor comes from the private sector, where he was a successful businessman who understands the difficulties of making a living. Wilson, a former school teacher, "has been on the public payrool all of his life."
-Government spending. As governor, Bangerter has reduced stat spending by $100 per capita, or by $100 per person. Wilson, while mayor of Salt Lake City, increased city spending by $100 per person.
-Texas. While Bangerter did suggest a large tax increase, Wilson has no room to criticize, the governor says. As mayor, Wilson suggested tax increases almost every year and increased the city's utility franchise tax several times until the Legislature forced a reduction in the tax.
-Economic development. While Wilson touts the economic health of Salt Lake City during his tenure, several of the city's downtown blocks are wastelands created by poor planning and city government intervention.
-Environment. Those who want more wilderness areas - and Wilson does want some more wilderness - may well strangle growth in rural Utah's economy.
Buhler said, "Let the (campaign) battle begin. Let's see if Teflon Ted is for real, if we can chip away the Teflon and get his record to stick to him.
"I won't dignify such charges and language with answers," Wilson said. "It's only May. Such language is usually saved for September or October. I can't imagine that the campaign is turning nasty, mudslinging, so early. The governor is a better man than this."
Wilson believes that stategically, Bangerter is making a mistake. "If you fire your big cannon now, what do you have left in October? What will he have to say then? I see this as an action of a desperate man who feels his campaign is out of control," Wilson said.
"I'm proud of my record, I've never lied about it or to the public," Wilson said. "I want to talk about the future of this state, jobs and education. What is being said is distortion, and attempt to create a poor political environment."
Wilson admits that Bangerter's tactics may work - some. "He wants to create a negative image of me. I understand that." Wilson said polling shows "that my positive ratings are great, very high. Such tactics will raise my negatives, but they will also solidify my support, I may drop in the polls a bit, but those for me will really be for me after this, and he (Bangerter) won't be able to cut any deeper."
Anticipating Wilson's response, Buhler said, "This isn't negative campaigning at all. The only thing negative here is Wilson's record. We're asking people to look beyond the cheerleader (Wilson was a cheerleader at the University of Utah).
"Look at his record. The governor has been under the spotlight for some time. Let (Wilson) be under the light. That is fine. Ultimately, the people will decide if this-is a negative campaign or not."