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Will mayoral race split along religious lines?

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Over the next several weeks you'll likely start hearing more about the Salt Lake City mayor's race as radio and TV ads start to hit the airwaves.

Many of you hearing or seeing the ads won't actually get to vote for Mayor Rocky Anderson or his main challengers, Frank Pignanelli and Molonai Hola, because you don't live in the city.

Still, you may want to pay attention.

This could get interesting.

The general feeling among political types is that Anderson is vulnerable — but going after his clear weak points must be done with some touch, some adeptness.

Poll after poll by Dan Jones & Associates, the pollster for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV, shows a clear split where Anderson is concerned.

Democrats and non-Mormons really like him; Republicans and members of the LDS Church don't.

In the middle are some political independents and non-Mormons, maybe even a few faithful members of the LDS Church who are not so quick to judge the mayor.

For now, Anderson seems a good bet to come through the Oct. 7 primary, where the field of five will be cut to the top two vote-getters.

The challenge for Hola or Pignanelli after that first cut is clear: How does one of them go after Anderson in the final election?

Look to some of the ads soon to be running to get a hint.

Will they use humor?

One ad I've heard that was pitched to Pignanelli would have kids in the sandbox playing together, with one not getting along. And the misfit would be compared to Anderson.

Will they be blunt?

Another anti-Anderson ad could have a well-known community or political leader — likely also a member of the LDS Church — saying Anderson has divided the community over the Main Street Plaza or other issues, and now is the time for healing.

There are dangers in such campaigning, of course.

Polling shows less than 50 percent of city residents say they are members of the LDS Church. And it's a good bet many of those who say they are LDS are so-called Jack Mormons — not tithe-paying, faithful members.

Unlike the rest of Utah, Republicans are not a majority in the city, which is split about one-third Democrats, one-third Republicans and one-third independents.

Jones says most of those independents usually vote Democratic, however.

So appealing just to GOP Mormons in the city probably won't get you elected. You need some independent, non-Mormon votes, too.

There, of course, Anderson has the upper hand.

But the mayor also has to be careful.

If he plays too strongly to that group he may win the election only to find many influential church members — whether they live in the city or not — and downtown businessmen feeling angry and disenfranchised.

He's certainly seen that reaction in the GOP Legislature, where 80 percent of the members are also faithful members of the LDS Church. Bills have even been introduced that would punish the city economically because of the dislike of Anderson and some of his political stands. (All, so far, have failed.)

You may see Anderson ads that say stuff like: He takes a stand for what is right. Or: He'll support the majority while protecting the minority.

That kind of thing will tactfully remind voters — without actually saying it — that he didn't go along with giving the LDS Church a free speech easement until a "consensus" agreement could be reached.

Or you could see an ad that says he stands up to the Republican-controlled Legislature when need be. Even some moderate Republicans in the city could like that one.

Either way, over the next eight weeks of the Salt Lake mayoral race we'll see just how carefully these candidates deal with the issue of Mormon/non-Mormon and Republican/Democrat.

What kind of wounds must be publicly bound after Nov. 4?

Pay attention to some of the upcoming campaign ads and we may get a glimpse.

Deseret Morning News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at bbjr@desnews.com