Sen. Jim Dabakis' entry into the Salt Lake City Mayoral contest changes the landscape in that race dramatically.
The Salt Lake City contest is in two parts. A primary election in August with the top-two candidates advancing to the general in November.
Before Dabakis, there were just three candidates fighting for two spots in the November election – incumbent Ralph Becker, former Rep. Jackie Biskupski and City Councilman Luke Garrott.
It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Becker will make the general election unless something completely unexpected happens.
Previously, the equation for Biskupski and Garrott was simply to beat the other in order to get to the general.
Now, there are three candidates for the final spot, and Dabakis is clearly the frontrunner. He has better name recognition and will likely have a bigger war chest than both Biskupski and Garrott.
Right now I would rank the four candidates like this:
That changes the calculus for the last two dramatically. Now, they have to find a way to beat Dabakis in order to get to the final two. Biskupski already said in a statement "As a result of Jim’s candidacy we may make some strategic adjustments." That "strategic adjustment" means they have to go after Dabakis as well as Becker.
Dabakis' entry into the race helps Becker, too. Now, instead of having Biskupski and Garrott teeing off on him for the next 124 days, those two now have to fight on a divided front, turning their fire on Dabakis as well.
Dabakis is the only candidate who can concentrate his fire on Becker. He should ignore any attacks from Biskupski and Garrott. I'm not sure he's disciplined enough to do that, but he should. There's a reason people say you should "never punch down."
Essentially, it's a two-person race right now, with Biskupski and Garrot having to fight their way into the mix. Becker and Dabakis will command most of the attention.
There are a couple of ways for Biskupski and Garrott to make things very uncomfortable for Dabakis.
There is a provision in Salt Lake City election law that allows mayoral candidates to sign a pledge limiting how much of their personal funds they can contribute to $75,000. Dabakis says he will start the race with $100,000 in the bank. Given the fact that he can only take $7,500 from his legislative campaign account and another $7,500 from his PAC. That leaves $85,000 to bridge that gap. It's safe to assume most of that money will come from his personal bank account since Dabakis is independently wealthy.
Dabakis is the only candidate who would be able to bring that level of personal wealth to the party. It would be a smart play for Biskupski and Garrott to push for Dabakis to sign that pledge. If he doesn't, they could hammer him for being "out of touch."
There's another money strategy the two should employ to put pressure on both Becker and Dabakis.
Salt Lake City code allows candidates for mayor to voluntarily limit their spending in the race to $375,000. Becker already has $240,000 in his campaign account, and Dabakis will likely match that. It's doubtful Biskupski and Garrott will come close to spending that amount. If they sign the pledge, it will pressure Becker and Dabakis to do the same and level the playing field a little. If they don't sign, it's a campaign issue for them.
Biskupski and Garrott are clearly the underdogs here, and their task got a little bit harder this week. They have a chance, but their margin for error is a whole lot smaller than it was a few days ago.