Saturday at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention, Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, made a final pitch to delegates that he was the most electable candidate to be the Democrats’ nominee for County Mayor. Supporters, decked out in McAdams shirts and day-glow orange cowboy hats, helped usher McAdams to a substantial win after two rounds of voting and having received 61 percent of the vote.
The turnout at Murray High School where the county Democrats held their convention was massive, with over 2,300 in attendance. Cars parked up on sidewalks and delegates filled the assembly-room auditorium to capacity. From the dozens of “Ben McAdams” and “Ross Romero” signs aerating the high school’s State Street-adjacent lawn, it was clear the mayoral race was bringing the crowd out.
As McAdams and Romero made their final speeches, it was clear that the candidates’ campaign messages had been boiled down to the electability of McAdams and to Romero’s ability to bring out a diverse voting block of county residents. McAdams took the stage in a speech resembling something more of a dynamic TED Talk than a stump speech, with the candidate’s pulpit removed and the state senator pacing the blue-and-gold backlit stage delivering his talk with a hands-free microphone.
McAdams immediately asked the crowd what would compel the Senator to find himself sitting in the living room of former Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan and a number of conservative activists from the Eagle Forum activist group.
One delegate shouted, “Insanity!” in reference to the time McAdams spent working with conservative opponents to allow Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker to pass an ordinance prohibiting workplace and housing discrimination against lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender Salt Lake City residents.
“That you go to whatever length necessary to fight for what you believe in,” McAdams said of the work. “If that means building bridges with unlikely people, then you do it.” Romero’s nomination speech was preceded by messages of support from several of his legislative colleagues, including outgoing House Minority Leader, Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, who vouched for Romero and called him his “best friend,” while Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Holladay also lauded Romero’s experience and called him a “fierce advocate” for women’s rights on the Hill.
Romero, in a fiery speech, challenged McAdams for speaking to his ability to win over moderate Republicans. “I’m not interested in getting Romney Republicans to the polls and hope they cross over. I want voters to be energized by Democrats and go to the polls to vote for Democrats,” Romero said.
He also noted that according to recent statistics, 17 percent of the county population is Latino but only 2 percent vote. “On the west side of the county, 52 percent of registered voters don’t vote,” Romero said. “Imagine what we can do if there is a candidate with west-side roots to bring out the vote?”
More than a thousand delegates lined up to cast their votes after the nominating speeches, and hours later, the first round of voting results had McAdams clinch 57 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Romero. Ordinarily, this would mean the two candidates would have to go to primary in June to conclude the race, since neither candidate hit the 60 percent mark. But under newly adopted convention rules, if a candidate hit at least 57 percent then another round of voting would commence.
After round two, delegates came back with enough support to push McAdams to victory, giving him 61 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Romero.
After the results had been read, Romero immediately introduced McAdams as the Democrats' new County Mayor and asked for his supporters to help get behind the McAdams campaign.
In an interview after the convention, Romero said he had no beef with the rule change and his campaign understood its implications going into convention.
“We’ve got be galvanized behind electing Democrats [now],” Romero said. McAdams now is shifting the campaign to November, where he will be either facing conservative opponent West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder or Salt Lake County Councilman Mark Crockett. Overall, the battle with Romero was one McAdams says has helped prepare the campaign to take its message to a broader audience in the fall.“It was a hard-fought campaign but I think overall the campaign was a success,” McAdams said. “We were able to bring new people to the Democratic Party and inspired new voters to get involved, and now we move forward together.”