Bob Bernick’s notebook: Last-minute campaign errors

Bernick Mug 01

In 40 years of watching and reporting on political campaigns in Utah, I’m still struck by candidates who make silly, stupid, or unintended mistakes in the final week or two of their long struggle to win public office.

All this planning, all this money, all this effort, and yet you still step in it.

To me, it doesn’t matter if some well-intentioned LDS supporters of Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall approached her to ask that they be allowed to testify (here’s a good Mormon buzz word) to her basic goodness, fairness, and willingness to work with faithful Mormons when she is mayor.

It was a mistake for the Mendenhall campaign to pay to send out that letter, which most likely was sent to LDS faithful in parts of the city.

Like many last-minute campaigning tactics, these mistakes don’t add much to the vote total.

And they have the potential to side-track a campaign, make the candidate look bad in the media, and deter last-minute support for the candidate — just the opposite of what the ill-timed tactic was meant to do.

I understand the fear and frustration.

Sometimes the candidate is near victory. Can this last-minute tactic push him or her over the finish line?

Or maybe the candidate is ahead in the polls, and they fear their lukewarm supporters won’t vote because they believe the candidate will win without their ballot.

But it is in these final weeks that a candidate’s better nature must take hold.

Don’t give in.

Don’t make that final, desperate move.

Don’t be stupid.

And above all, keep a tight rein on your ancillary supporters — don’t look a blind eye to what several members of your top campaign advisors/staffers are doing.

Don’t lose control of your message.

Tactically speaking, Mendenhall’s campaign made a big mistake by sending out that religious mailer. No matter who organized it, she paid for it.

Most likely Mendenhall will still win on Tuesday.

Mail-in ballots have been out for weeks, so many have already cast their votes.

And a poll by Y2 Analytics finds that only 50 percent of city voters even knew about the candidates’ religious affiliations, anyway.

(Well, probably more than half know about it now, with the media coverage coming over the mailer.)

Our polling shows Mendenhall up by 13 points in a straight-up head-to-head, and by 10 points when Y2 pushed respondents to make a choice in the race.

Both those numbers are well outside of the poll’s margin of error. So Mendenhall looks pretty good.

In an ironic measure, maybe that is why she agreed to the mailer — she and her top staff feared her turn-out-the-vote effort may be harmed by the good polling numbers.

If elected, Mendenhall will likely be a fine mayor.

But Escamilla, likewise, would likely be a fine mayor, too.

It’s a shame Mendenhall’s campaign decided to push the LDS issue with a week to go in the election.

Never good for a winner to have a bad taste in their mouths on election night.