Erin Mendenhall says her come-from-behind lead in the Salt Lake City mayoral primary election proves something important.
“This is not about who can raise the most money,” she said Wednesday. “This is about connecting with the community, and I know how to do that.”
She raised and spent only the fifth most among the eight candidates — and just a quarter of what the spending leader raised — but she led with the pack with 23.7% of the vote, according to unofficial returns.
Mendenhall was confident she’ll advance to the general election as late-arriving mail ballots continue to be counted. Jim Dabakis and Luz Escamilla are battling for the other general election slot, with just 109 votes separating them after election night.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said Wednesday that her office has received 8,158 by-mail ballots that are yet to be counted in the Salt Lake City race, plus 683 provisional ballots. The number of outstanding ballots is more than the counted vote total of any single candidate, including Mendenhall’s 6,924.
Swensen said more late-arriving, by-mail ballots could also arrive in coming days. She plans to release an updated vote count, including many of those by-mail arrivals, on Thursday at 3 p.m., and another on Friday.
Mendenhall told reporters Wednesday that she has no preference whether she faces Dabakis or Escamilla in the fall.
“They’re both lovely,” she said. “I believe that with either of them, we would have a strong and robust general election.”
She talked mostly about lessons learned by clinching front-runner status with less money. She outlined plans to continue grassroots campaigning for the general election. And she called for more in-depth discussion of issues, debates in every City Council district and an end to some dirty politics that she says emerged late.
“We know how to do more with every single dollar that we earn,” Mendenhall said about her campaign, crediting coming from behind in polls to inexpensive but difficult door-by-door politicking and pushing issues that are important to residents in targeted areas.
“We had a sophisticated targeting campaign, and I believe that those targets that we worked really hard ended up being able to carry us through in the primary," she said. “We know how to do that into the general and expand that scale.”
Mendenhall added that volunteers knocked on doors seven days a week, including until polls closed on election night. The campaign was helped by endorsements and aid from labor unions and community leaders, she said.
Besides that, she added, “the issues we’re talking about are resonating with the voters.”
She pointed to three main takeaways from all those doorstep conversations.
“The first is that after 12 years of mayors with experience on Capitol Hill, our voters are ready for a mayor with experience in City Hall.” Without using their names, that was a poke at former state Sen. Dabakis and current state Sen. Escamilla, while Mendenhall is a City Council member.
“Second is that voters are tired of rhetoric and they’re ready for results,” and she said her campaign outlined plans for how she will pursue her ideas.
Third, “Voters want a mayor who’s going to take air quality as seriously as they do,” she said, adding she continued to hear that is residents’ top concern and it is her top priority.
She called for debates in every council district to try to address differing concerns. “The unique needs of Salt Lake City change from neighborhood to neighborhood.”
Mendenhall also seeks a televised debate that may focus on air quality. She said debates up to now forced short answers among the eight candidates. Now, she wants the two finalists “to get into the weeds and offer some real solutions. Air quality, climate change, water, affordable housing are issues we need to dig in on.”
She also called for an end to what she says was some dirty politics that emerged late in the primary — such as attack flyers from anonymous political action committees.
“Contrast is good between candidates. It’s fair for us to talk about those differences," she said. “But there’s a difference between creating contrast and undignified attacks that we saw.”
She said she’s looking forward to more hard work, and joked, “What a year the last four months have been.”