West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder has just been cleared by the county clerk’s office of any financial wrongdoing alleged by his challenger, former County Councilman Mark Crockett.
But the back and forth doesn’t end here.
With just a nine week primary campaign, we’ve seen a lot of references to Winder’s “Richard Burwash” problem – incidents of several months ago when Winder came forward himself to admit that he wrote a number of pen-name articles for the online versions of the Deseret News and KSL.com.
He deceived the media outlets’ editors with his pen-name articles, Winder says, because the organizations – especially the Deseret News – had cut back on their reporting of West Valley City stories, particularly “good” stories about what the city and community was doing right.
In essence, with Burwash stories Winder was anonymously playing the PR man, which was his job at the time with the Summit Group. (Winder later lost his Summit Group job because of the Burwash scandal.)
Just this week UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott wrote that someone (again, anonymously) had put up a campaign signs next to a Winder signs, same design and colors, in favor of a Richard Burwash candidate.
Winder called it a prank and tried to be in good humor about it.
But the Burwash question – which keeps rising in the GOP primary campaign – could be an excellent example of what is called in the campaign business as “inoculation.”
In short, if you are a campaign manager and your candidate has something unsavory in his past, don’t ignore it, don’t not mention it, or try to sweep it under the rug.
No. Early in the campaign you talk about it. Maybe even talk about it a lot.
So you inoculate yourself to the issue later on, especially in the final days of the final election.
The idea – proven effective over the years – is that you don’t want voters to learn about your candidate’s problem(s) just before the final election.
If your general election opponent, in this case, brings up Richard Burwash in late October, the voters by that time have heard so much about it they just yawn – and say, “Oh, no, not that thing again.”
I’m not accusing Winder or anyone in his campaign of printing up the “prank” Richard Burwash campaign signs and hanging them on fences next to the real Winder signs.
But most folks found out about the Burwash sign after it was posed by Winder himself on his own FaceBook and Twitter pages.
(Winder says he had nothing to do with the Burwash sign and posted it because he thought it was funny and he’s trying to have a sense of humor about his Burwash mistake, for which he’s apologized profusely.)
State Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, is the Democratic nominee for county mayor. Crockett and McAdams also deny any knowledge of the Burwash signs.
While current Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon has won his elections handily, the seat is still considered a swing office, with the chance that it could go to the GOP nominee greatly aided by Mitt Romney being at the head of the ballot come November.
I don’t know McAdams campaign strategy. But if Winder wins the June 26 GOP primary, clearly McAdams would be wise to slam the Burwash issue in the fall.
Part of what citizens want in their elected leaders is good common sense, and Winder’s Burwash mistake wasn’t that.
So, is it smart politics for Winder to “inoculate” himself now on the Burwash issue?
The danger, of course, is that Crockett rides Burwash to victory over Winder in a few days.
But if Burwash is talked about at length in the June primary campaign, and Winder still wins, doesn’t that take the edge off the issue in November?
As in many things political, the answer is maybe.
Salt Lake County residents may not be paying much attention today to the primary campaign. They may see an October Burwash debate between McAdams and Winder as something new – to Winder’s detriment.
Or putting Richard Burwash into his rear view mirror as the summer begins might be the smartest move of the Winder mayoral campaign.
The inoculate campaign theory says you talk about your weaknesses early in the election cycle, you talk about them a lot and you explain them away as best you can.
You apologize for your mistakes – voters like that you take responsibility for your actions.
You admit to voters that you are a flawed, but good, human being, and wish to move on with your life and your public service.
For we political junkies, who like to watch campaign strategy in action, take note of the Salt Lake County mayor’s race this year.
It may the most interesting down-ticket contest unfolding before us.