Sometimes the touchiest issue a candidate faces is how to make a difference between himself and a fellow Democrat or Republican in an intra-party delegate contest.
State Sens. Ross Romero and Ben McAdams are walking that line today – they face off April 14 in the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention in the county mayor’s race.
If one of the men can get 60 percent of the 1,300 county delegates, he wins the nomination outright. If not, the two go to the June 26 open Democratic Party primary ballot.
“I want to avoid a primary if I can,” McAdams told UtahPolicy, although he stops short of predicting he’s within striking distance of the 60 percent threshold.
“For Democrats, I think a primary is destructive. It wastes money we need for the general election against the Republicans,” said McAdams.
Romero said, “It’s still too early to make predictions about the convention” – now just two weeks away. A number of delegates still need to be contacted and talked to.
Romero said he’s pushing delegates on the length of his political experience. “I’ve been in office 10 years compared to just three” for McAdams.
“I also discuss my length of service inside the Democratic Party, and the party building I’ve done.” While Romero has tried to round up all kinds of folks and bring them into Utah’s minority party, he’s known for his work among Utah Hispanics (being one himself).
Romero sees himself as the more seasoned of the two: “I’ve been a lawyer for 10 years and working (for Zions Bank) in the financial industry for four.”
But one of Romero’s main pitches is that if McAdams is the Democratic nominee, whether McAdams wins or loses the general election, the Utah Democratic Party loses Romero’s voice as an officeholder.
But if McAdams wins the nomination, but loses the election, he just returns “to an important role in the Senate,” says Romero.
So, a vote for Romero in the state convention or primary is a win-win for Democrats – they keep Romero’s office-seeking hopes alive and McAdams fills out the remaining two years of his Senate term.
“If I’m the nominee,” said Romero. “Sen. McAdams can remain a strong voice for us (Democrats) in the Senate.”
Not surprisingly, McAdams sees it differently.
Now is the time for Democrats to pick a mayor who is a proven “bridge-builder” to the other side of the aisle, McAdams says.
What’s he telling Democratic county delegates?
“I point to my experience in local government” – where his latest job is as a top aide to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker (who was also a Democratic lawmaker before his jump to local office four years ago).
“And I ask delegates to look at how I’ve brought different viewpoints together in the Legislature and out.”
McAdams says before he went to the Senate he put together a coalition to support the city’s gay anti-discrimination ordinance.
At the start of that process, says McAdams, leading conservatives like former Sen. Chris Buttars were threatening to block such a local ordinance at the state level.
In the end, not only did city officials agree to the ordinance, so did the LDS Church and Buttars himself.
Later, in the Senate, “I’ve worked out some really hard compromises” in a heavily-Republican Legislature. “Last year I introduced 19 bills, 11 passed.” In the 2012 session McAdams said he sponsored 15 bills and nine passed.
“I can work across ideological sectors. What I like about local government is there are not a lot of partisan issues; but when there are, I can break down the barriers.”
Today, Republicans hold a slim majority on the County Council. If Democrats can’t win back the majority this year, a new Democratic mayor will have to work with an opposite-party majority.
Says Romero: “Not only have I practice law in the community, I’ve reached out in a number of areas.”
He’s worked with the University of Utah’s young alumni group, with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the city’s Board of Adjustment and on the board of the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center.
Romero has been especially active in the local Hispanic community, including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
While Romero says he doesn’t see certain community groups lining up behind either himself or McAdams, his donation list is spattered with Hispanic surname contributors.
“I don’t think Utah Democrats can divide up,” said Romero. “We can’t be the white-wine set against the beer and nuts set.”
However, Romero does say that the most immediate group of citizens that Democrats should go after are Hispanics.
Salt Lake County is 17 percent Hispanic, says Romero, but “only 2 percent of the Hispanics vote.”
“It is all well and good to go after the LDS community” and try to convert them to the Democratic Party, said Romero. (A new Mormon caucus has just been started in the state Democratic Party.)
But that, while appropriate, is a long-term effort, Romero says.
Most Mormons are Republicans, even if they are moderates. “You have to move a person from the Republican Party, to being neutral, to vote Democratic. It takes time,” said Romero.
Hispanics are a natural fit for Utah Democrats, and real efforts should be made in party building there, he believes.
McAdams is more blunt about the groups who like him.
“I’m getting good support from the LGBT community and from a number of environmentalists,” McAdams says.
The first group comes because of his work in the city and Legislature with LGBT issues, he says.
The second comes through Romero’s connections with the Ski Link issue between the Wasatch Front canyons and The Canyons Resort outside Park City. The idea, still active, is to build a lift connection between The Canyons and Solitude, thus allow skiers to use both resorts on current runs across the mountains.
The pro-link folks held a fundraiser for Romero where, says McAdams, the resorts gave him more than $2,000 and employees also donated.
“I’m strongly against Ski Link,” said McAdams, “And that, along with Ross’s contributions, have brought me some real environmental help.”
Romero notes that he, too, opposes Ski Link and has environmentalists in his camp as well.
To say that local Democrats are split on the Romero/McAdams race is an understatement. Some groups and individuals have given money and support to both men.
And get this one: McAdams says the ski industry is supporting Romero.
Former County Council Democratic candidate Holly Mullen (who was the official spokesperson for the House Democrats in the 2011 general session and knows both men well) is married to Ted Wilson, former Democratic Salt Lake City mayor, former environmental advisor to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and is now the government relations manager for The Canyons. And Mullen gave McAdams, not Romero, $200. Go figure.