Round one goes to the challenger. Former Rep. Jackie Biskupski scored a big lead over incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker when the first round of mail-in ballots were counted Tuesday night.
Biskupski raced to a 15-point lead over Becker, a stunning defeat for the two-term incumbent, to be sure.
Salt Lake City Council Chairman Luke Garrott was in third place with 13-percent of the vote. George Chapman and Dave Robinson were in fourth and fifth place.
Unless something drastic changes the trajectory of the race, both Becker and Biskupski will advance to the general election in November.
Biskupski's 4,300 vote lead following the first round of counting will not be the final margin of victory. Mail-in ballots had to be postmarked by Monday, August 10th while voters could drop off their ballot or vote in person up until the polls closed on Tuesday evening.
Becker was likely hurt by his handling of the ouster of former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank. Becker demanded Burbank's resignation after he refused to apologize for the way he dealt with a sexual harassment claim involving a deputy police chief. A UtahPolicy.com/Dan Jones survey found that a majority of Salt Lake City residents felt Becker did not act appropriately when he forced Burbank out.
The decision to relocate the prison to Salt Lake City has the potential to be a deciding factor in this race. Becker came under fire when the legislature passed a measure authorizing a sales-tax increase for whatever city became the host of the new facility, something Becker has been pushing for some time to help pay for city services.
For his part, Becker seemed stunned by the results but was not bowed.
"It's not ideal, that's for sure," he said. "What this tells me is that, from the beginning, this was going to be about the general election. Now that there are two candidates, voters will have a clear choice."
One advantage Becker has heading into the general election is a massive cash advantage over Biskupski. Becker has nearly 4.5 dollars to every one Biskupski has in her account. However, expect her win to pump up her fundraising.
Becker acknowledges his campaign held back on using their campaign resources with an eye on the general election.
"My belief is that the campaign starts tomorrow," said Becker. "We have held our resources with the hope of getting through the primary as one of the top-two. We are going to have the resources to advance the campaign and my candidacy that we haven't used to date. How much of an advantage it is, we are going to find out."
Becker's primary loss is not unprecedented for a Salt Lake City Mayor. Former Mayor Dee Dee Corradini came in second in the primary election during her 1995 re-election bid but won the general election rather easily.
Certainly the dynamics of the race will change for the general election. For one, the number of voters will likely be higher. Secondly, more voters will be paying attention as summer ends. Then again, with this election being conducted mostly by mail, it remains to be seen how much different the November election will be.
In the other Salt Lake City primary race for City Council District 4, Derek Kitchen cruised to a big lead over four other candidates, meaning he will advance to November's general election. However, the remaining four are all within 137 votes of each other.