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'D-word' was kiss of death for Provo challenger

By Mark Eddington The Salt Lake Tribune - Thursday, November 10, 2005

PROVO -- Officially nonpartisan, the Provo mayor's race nonetheless was waged with partisan zeal.

In Utah County, that means the Republican Party -- which election observers credit or blame for mayoral challenger Dave Bailey's surprisingly lopsided loss to two-term incumbent Lewis Billings.

"Billings' supporters gave voters the impression the mayor carried the imprimatur of the Republican Party and that Bailey was a pseudo-Republican at best or closet Democrat at worst," said self-proclaimed Provo political junkie Richard Harris. "In Provo, when the GOP speaks or purportedly takes a position, the debate -- the election in this case -- is over."

Bailey, who took down signs as he took stock of his 20-percentage point defeat Wednesday, said the damage to his candidacy came from a last-minute election flier circulated to registered Republicans. Mailed by a pro-Billings group, the pamphlet quoted the challenger as saying he would, if elected, appoint Nancy Jane Woodside as his chief administrative officer.

Woodside, former Utah Democratic Party vice chairwoman and county Democratic chairwoman, did serve as Bailey's debate coach during the campaign. Although Bailey said the quote was a complete fabrication, he added its impact was devastating and his camp lacked the time to repair the damage.

"There's no question that it scared anybody with conservative values," said Bailey, who notes he is a registered Republican. "Half-truths are one thing, but to come right out and lie is another. It's obvious that nonpartisan politics in Provo is dead and that the Republican Party in Utah County is always going to choose the mayor."

Billings could not be reached Wednesday for comment. But Marian Monnahan, his campaign chairwoman and the county GOP chairwoman, said the incumbent's principles -- not party affiliation -- and hard work by campaign volunteers were responsible for his victory.

"We had no part of that mailer at all," Monnahan said. "Once I saw the mailer, I was a bit concerned . . . because people on the Bailey side also belonged to the Republican Party."

Even so, the mailer branding Bailey with the "D-word" was signed by state Sen. Curt Bramble, Rep. Becky Lockhart and other prominent GOP leaders.

Former Provo Mayor George Stewart, a Republican who won election Tuesday to the City Council, said Bailey's ties to Woodside and other known "Democratic political operatives" did not play well in Provo. He said Bailey also blundered by attending the Utah Democratic Convention, where he was introduced by party leaders.

"The perception was that the Democrats were trying to influence this race, and that had a really negative effect on his campaign," Stewart said. "So once that [mailer] came out, it seemed like the election turned."

Bailey -- who lost by a scant 365 votes to the mayor four years ago -- does not regret using Woodside, who he says is more conservative than tax-and-spend Billings ever could hope to be. He does, however, regret his appearance at the Democratic Convention, which he attended as an invited guest.

Playing the party card doesn't just play in Utah County, though. It also is used liberally in Salt Lake City -- often by Democrats trying to label candidates as Republicans.

As Scott Smith put it before voting at Provo's Wasatch Elementary School, running for office is not for the fainthearted. "It's pretty rough."

Bailey would certainly agree.

"Once they used the 'D-word' it killed me. If I had done it to [Billings], it would have killed him. But I wouldn't because there has got to be some honor in a campaign."

meddington@sltrib.com

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