Becker Begins His Courtship of Republican Voters

You have to look close, or you'll miss it, but in one of Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker’s new TV ads there stands former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt with the Democratic mayor.

And it may be only a hint of what is to come – Becker standing next to and being endorsed by some leading Utah Republicans.

As UtahPolicy has pointed out before, Becker – seen as a more moderate Democrat than his general election opponent, Jackie Biskupski – needs to appeal directly to disenfranchised GOP city voters.

Both Becker and Biskupski are Democrats in this non-partisan race.

Both served the city in the Utah Legislature – both in minority House leadership.

In fact, it was Becker’s standing as the House minority leader that he used to springboard his run for mayor the first time in 2007.

Biskupski – the first openly gay legislator – seems to have the more liberal side of the city electorate sewed up – especially among the strong gay community.

She outpolled Becker by a surprising 4,455 votes in the August primary election.

Becker needs to find votes outside of the traditional Democratic base to gain on Biskupski – and win – come November.

The three TV ads seen here show his approach:

— Start an appeal to GOP city voters, who don’t have a party candidate in the final election and need some reason to vote for Becker.

Leavitt’s short appearance in Becker’s new TV ad about economic development successes in the city (the governor doesn’t speak) is likely only a start.

— An endorsement ad by Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams again appeals to moderates.

While a former Democratic state senator, McAdams was considerate a moderate and got along well with GOP legislators and Republican governors.

— The ad featuring a Hispanic small business owner makes a direct appeal to Latinos, with the business person at the end of the ad speaking Spanish asking his minority colleagues to vote for and support Becker.

Four years ago Becker had small opposition in winning his second term. So voter comparisons in that election mean little.

But eight years ago Becker had a tight race against Republican Dave Buhler.

While officially a nonpartisan race (the political party of the candidate does not appear next to his ballot name), anyone who is paying attention in Salt Lake mayoral contests knows the main candidates’ political leanings.

And city voters have not picked a GOP mayor since the early 1970s.

Anyway, Buhler got 15,524 votes against Becker’s 27,556.

Biskupski’s primary showing indicates Becker is not getting some of those 27,000 voters again.

So he needs the lion’s share of Buhler’s 15,000 votes – no doubt most of them coming from city Republicans who don’t have a GOP candidate this final election.

How does Becker get them?

By showing well-known Republicans like Leavitt support him in this election – Republicans who may well have endorsed a GOP mayoral candidate if there had been one.

This is a fine line, of course.

Becker does have moderate Democratic support – all the Becker lawn signs in my Avenues neighborhood show that.

And he can’t afford to alienate those Democrats by blatantly appealing to Republican voters.

However, well-placed “hints” in campaign ads can do this – especially TV ads.

This may be one of just several reasons Becker is spending the TV big bucks in a race that rarely sees TV advertising – so many viewers can’t vote in your election.

I remember a print ad by a former city candidate showing him standing before the City-County Building – the spires well placed in the background.

This guy was a faithful Mormon but worried some voters didn’t know that. The City-County Building spires shot properly resemble the downtown LDS Temple spires.

He didn’t come right out and say: “Hey, I’m a faithful Mormon.” And he didn’t take a picture of himself standing before the Temple itself – that is a big no-no in Mormon circles, you don’t directly use the church in campaigning.

But he tried to get that message across in a subtle manner. Clever fellow.

Becker putting Leavitt in one of his first TV ads – even if only for a moment, and even though the governor doesn’t speak nor directly endorse Becker (at least not yet) is one way of appealing to GOP voters.

The Hispanic businessman is a more direct appeal to Latinos.

And McAdams tells listeners Becker is a good choice for a moderate Democrat, someone they can trust, just like so many GOP Salt Lake County voters trust McAdams.

This is an all vote-by-mail election. Ballots go out early in October, now just a few weeks away.

Becker needs to start pushing back against Biskupski and start his “big tent” appeals now.