A look at why Corroon lost so resoundingly

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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Tuesday's elections saw a candidate many Utah Democrats viewed as their best shot at the governor's office in years, lose resoundingly. Political observers say the campaign of Peter Corroon, the popular mayor of Salt Lake County, became a sort of textbook case of what not to do.

Early on, Democrats thought Peter Corroon had a shot--he's a fiscal conservative with a steady reputation as an ethics reformer and a good, likable manager, who had raised a lot of campaign money--against Jon Huntsman's former No.2 Gary Herbert.

Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, said, "People have to talk about what Governor Herbert did right. This is a resounding victory."

Utah Governor election results*

Gary R. Herbert (R)64%
Peter Corroon (D)32%
Farley M. Anderson (U)2%
W. Andrew McCullough (L)2%
Lt. Gov. of Utah *Unofficial results

Gov. Herbert, himself well-funded, was celebrating election night, political analysts say, because he combined a folksy, good-natured demeanor with a simple message he repeated with discipline: "It's the economy."

"Most importantly, I think we were right on the issues. We were correct on growing the economy and focusing on job creation, and we were doing it," he said.

But the size of the victory was breathtaking. Voters picked Herbert in 28 of 29 counties and by a stunning 10,000 votes in Salt Lake County, Corroon's base. Even Sam Granato, a Democratic newcomer, fared better with far less money.

What went wrong for Corroon? A number of mistakes cost him dearly, according to political observers.

Tom Love, president of Love Communications, said, "I think Peter could have capitalized on his record and what he had to offer."

Frank Pignanelli, a lobbyist and Deseret News political columnist, said, "What Peter Corroon needed to do more of is define himself."

Corroon called out the governor on the influence of big money in politics, an issue polls show Utahns in general are concerned about; but at the same time, Corroon refused to limit his own.

That especially mattered when his campaign ran tough ads, spotlighting questions about Herbert's fundraising and a controversial state road contract. The ads were produced by out-of-state consultants who may not be familiar with the sensitivities of Utah voters.

"Mayor Corroon, went too negative for too long," Jowers said.

Longtime political adman Evan Tweed says a more nuanced approach might have resonated better.

"I think that what we need in Utah is balance. I think our steering wheel is cranked too far to the right and we're just doing this," he said.

During the campaign, Corroon was criticized for going negative, especially in advertising. We asked him if he thought that cost him the race.

"I don't think so. Our polling showed it didn't make a difference. We were aggressive about issues that I think are important in this race and maybe haven't been brought up in the past," Corroon said.

In the end, Democrats are left wondering when they'll again win the governor's office, something they haven't done in 30 years. In fact, they haven't won a statewide race in more than a decade.

"They are an endangered species. And every year they don't win one of these big races makes it seem all that much more of the Don Quixote dream," Jowers said.

Highlighting the dilemma for Democrats: Republicans already controlled the Legislature with a super-majority in both houses. Tuesday, Democrats lost another five seats in Utah House and one in the Senate.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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