So, it's down to Jackie Biskupski vs. Ralph Becker in November's election. Buckle up, this one could get nasty.
Biskupski slapped Becker in Tuesday's primary election by more than 4,000 votes.
That win by Biskupski dramatically changes the dynamics of this race. Both candidates find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Biskupski is now the unexpected frontrunner while Becker has a lot of ground to make up. Whoever handles their new role best will likely be the winner.
Becker needs to do what Biskupski did so successfully during the primary – flip the script. She went from upstart challenger to leader at the midway point. He's in trouble, for sure. An incumbent with plenty of money to spend getting beat by 15-points should set off alarm klaxons.
When I talked to him on election night, Becker seemed almost relieved that the race is now down to two people. He no longer has to worry about three other candidates who had no chance of making it to the general election.
I expect him to come out swinging. Not in a negative way, at first, but he will start to bring the heat to Biskupski.
Becker needs to get Biskupski to engage with him. He will bait her. He will goad her. He will push her (and her supporters') buttons.
If that sounds desperate, it is. Becker hasn't had a tough race since 2007, when he first ran for Mayor. Prior to that, he had relatively easy elections to the Utah House. He is in an uncharted electoral territory. He has two choices ahead of him – win or retirement.
Biskupski needs to avoid the temptation to hit back at Becker. The longer she can control the narrative of this race, the better it will be for her. Right now all of the questions are landing squarely in Becker's lap. The prison move. Chris Burbank's ouster. All of those things are driving the conversation right now, and they're good for Biskupski. If she can keep the discussion from focusing on negative things for her, she will maintain her lead.
Right now, Biskupski can pick and choose how she joins the battle with Becker. But, there's a risk in waiting too long. She needs to hope that her campaign handlers and advisors can recognize when to engage Becker. If she goes too early, or too late, she risks losing control of the narrative.
Becker has a massive cash advantage right now, which he should unleash now to take control of the trajectory of this race. He's playing catch up and needs to get in front of the race. His resource advantage will give him ample opportunity to wrest the trajectory of the narrative away from Biskupski. Having plenty of campaign cash means you have the luxury of running the kind of campaign you want to instead of having to cut corners.
That money advantage means Becker can take the fight to Biskupski if he chooses. Biskupski simply does not have the luxury of going on the offensive.
Frankly, Biskupski has been lucky so far. The prison and Burbank issues favor her by putting the spotlight on Becker, allowing her to attack him without fear of blowback. If he can start landing punches, and I expect him to start swinging at her, it could get very uncomfortable for her. She hasn't had to make her case yet.
Even though Biskupski won the primary by a whopping 15-points, she does not have an assured victory by any stretch of the imagination. More people are very likely to vote in the general election, and more people will be paying attention as we move into the fall.
There's an old axiom in politics that voters don't start paying attention to elections until after Labor Day. We still have half of this marathon to go.