The first mail-in ballots for Salt Lake City's primary election will hit mailboxes beginning July 13. There are five candidates vying for Mayor, including incumbent Ralph Becker.
To get a sense where the race stands with about 45 days to the primary election, UtahPolicy.com spoke with two veteran Utah politicos, one Republican, and one Democrat. We asked them for their honest opinions about the race. In return, we promised to keep them anonymous.
Not surprisingly, our consultants felt Becker, the incumbent, was in the lead followed by Jackie Biskupski and Luke Garrott. They expect Becker and Biskupski to advance to November's election.
However, the way Becker handled the firing of Police Chief Chris Burbank had them divided.
One of our veterans said before the firing they felt Becker had a 75% chance of winning a third term in office. Now they rate the race as 50/50 between Becker and Biskupski.
"It's not just a chink in the armor; it's like slicing off the whole arm," they said. "The whole police chief incident was handled very poorly. There's now a legitimate reason to not support him."
Another on our panel acknowledged Burbank's ouster was clumsy, especially since he was so popular with Salt Lake City residents. But, they don't think it will be a big setback.
"The sexual harassment will trump the love for Burbank. People aren't going to tolerate it."
Our Republican says Becker needs to get out in front of the issue.
"I would do a whole revamp and public release of the city's sexual harassment policy. I would get some community leaders to say it's forward-thinking."
The Republican we talked to thinks Becker is completely misplaying the issue.
"He's got to drop the claim that he's done nothing wrong. His statement that he does not do things for political reasons was one of the most stupid things I've ever heard. He has to acknowledge this and move on."
Even if the Burbank issue is damaging to Becker, there is plenty of time for him to rebound.
"If the election were held today, he'd have a problem," said our Democrat. "The primary isn't until August and the general election is in November. That's a lifetime away in politics. I don't know how sticky this issue is."
One of the things that could hurt Becker in his bid for a third term is the perception he spends too much time out of the city. One of our political veterans says that could be an effective weapon to use against the two-term mayor.
"His opponents should do some research and figure out exactly how many days he has been out of the city," they said. "I would send out a mailer listing all of the days he was gone with the theme 'Salt Lake City needs a full-time Mayor.'"
But, there are things Becker could do to counter that line of attack.
"I'd be as visible as I possibly could and cut down on trips outside of the city for at least four months. Then I would be sending mailers to undecided voters stressing his actions in getting rid of Burbank. The tone should be he's always right there when we need him."
That's how this race is going to play out according to our consultants. Voters will either vote for or against Becker.
"Everything is about Becker. There's no overriding issue in this election. Becker's persona and policies have irritated some people," they said. "Is that enough to dump the guy?"
Our Republican suggests there's a path to victory for Biskupski.
"There's a whole block of voters that people don't look at when they're running in Salt Lake City – moderate and conservative Republicans," he said. "They don't have a place to go politically, but there are potentially enough of them to swing the election."
The key, according to our Republican, is for her to make them comfortable voting for her.
"If I were here, I'd get hold of a target list of Republicans and work that group. She needs to find out who votes and give them a reason to turn out this time."
Biskupski did have a booth at the Salt Lake County GOP Convention last month. Our consultant says she should go farther than that.
"If I were Jackie, I'd go out and get 2-3 reasonable Republicans, known names, and have them endorse her. I would mail that to registered Republicans. If she handles that right, she could get them."
The Democrat we spoke to said politics in Salt Lake City are much different than the rest of the state, and candidates' approach needs to mirror that.
"You can't look at Salt Lake politics through the prism of the rest of the state," they said. "Salt Lake voters are much more liberal. They want a candidate who speaks out on the issues they care about while getting things done. They want someone like Rocky Anderson, who is more competent while not as grating."
The race so far has been mild and cordial. Our Democrat expects Becker to take the gloves off soon.
"Even though Jackie was a well-respected legislator, there are some people with very hard feelings about the way she treated them. That could come back and haunt her. If Becker starts pointing out the differences between him and Biskupski that his policies lead to more bikes and fewer cars on the streets, he could drive his base population back into his camp."