Democrats get a viable candidate for governor. But will it matter?
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon announced Tuesday that he will run for governor this year as the Democratic challenger to Gov. Gary Herbert. (And yes, he will be the Democratic nominee, even if any other challenger not named Jim Matheson throws their hat in the ring).
Corroon is already way behind in the race, and not just because he is a Democrat. He is entering late, although that is not as much of hinderance for him because he has a sizable campaign war chest. Also, while popular with Salt Lake County residents from both parties, he is still relatively unproven with rural voters, many of whom tend to view "city slickers" with skepticism.
At least some Democratic insiders have told me that, for Corroon, this is as much a race for the fourth seat of Congress in 2012 as it is for governor. There is also a suspicion anytime a Democrat with some name recognition enters a race this late that they are simply doing to fill the slot on the ballot.
That certainly became the case in 2004 with Scott Matheson Jr., whose campaign against eventual winner Jon Huntsman Jr. basically disappeared after initial optimism within the party. I personally remember multiple times that I called their campaign offices for a comment on a story, and was told that Matheson was busy and would call me back within, no joke, a few days. That was obviously pointless at a daily newspaper, and anyway, he never actually returned a call.
Luckily for political junkies and Democrats, Corroon does not seem the type of candidate who would run simply to run. He has overcome significant odds before, when he was elected mayor (thanks, in large part, to a well-timed prosecution of then-Mayor Nancy Workman, who was eventually acquitted). So the challenge of facing a semi-incumbent Republican won't spook him.
I've also heard talk that Corroon is looking nationally for a campaign director -- in other words, somebody with political chops. Even if that doesn't pan out, the fact that they are looking for a real campaign manager means that they are very serious.
Finally, Corroon is hitting on two topics, right out of the gate, where Herbert may be vulnerable: nuclear waste (which Herbert opposes, but accurate or not, many doubt his sincerity) and the Snake Valley water deal. The latter is one where rural constituents feel betrayed (again, accurate or not), and Corroon can use it to assure them that he is not some liberal urbanite looking to steal their water and lock up their land.
In the end, Corroon will probably lose, despite the tireless optimism within his party and a well-run campaign. But it's not a foregone conclusion, especially because Herbert is equally unproven as a statewide candidate. Should Herbert stumble, Corroon will probably be running a strong enough campaign to actually win.