There's a lot of politics going on in Utah just 40 days from the 2004 general elections.

But the Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman story is a fascinating one for many people, showing as it does the tough parts of partisan and personal politics.

Workman, now on a paid leave of absence as she fights two felony counts of misuse of public monies, came to the Deseret Morning News' editorial board this week with her attorney, Greg Skordas, and her campaign manager, Chris Bleak, to talk about her troubles and answer questions.

As it so happened, she appeared Wednesday afternoon just after walking out of a live radio interview on KUER, the University of Utah's public radio station. She walked out of the interview, she told the board, because she believed that KUER veteran newsman Doug Fabrizio "was twisting" her answers and his questions were unfair in nature.

So now we can add to her many troubles the fact that she's walking out of live news programs if she doesn't like how the questioning is going. (She did not, by the way, walk out of the newspaper's editorial board meeting — maybe we didn't ask hard enough questions or maybe she didn't have a live radio audience to impress.)

Workman is not anything if not dogged — as her continuing campaign shows.

In the last Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll she got only 12 percent support. Her Democratic opponent, Peter Corroon — basically unknown until Workman's administration started to self-destruct this spring — had 43 percent support. Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found independent Merrill Cook, who is well-known in Utah politics, had 20 percent support.

Yet she maintained again Wednesday that she will not quit the race — which would leave no Republican on the ballot — nor will she seek a doctor's note saying she is disabled and can't continue the race — which would allow Republicans to replace her on the ballot.

She believes — and Skordas nearly guarantees — that she will get a jury trial before the Nov. 2 election. But legal experts say there's likely no way a trial can be set and heard in 40 days.

So Workman is running a very public campaign while at the same time is fighting a criminal case.

Skordas, who knows something about politics — he's the Democratic Party's nominee for Utah attorney general this year — says fighting it out in a court of law and in the court of public opinion at the same time is a very different thing. And the two goals are not always the same.

"Certainly, it helps her (campaign) if we win" in court, he said. But the opposite is not necessarily true, he added.

Already, Mike Martinez, the special prosecutor that Democratic County Attorney Dave Yocom has hired to prosecute Workman, has asked for a gag order to keep all parties from discussing the case, alleging, among other things, that Workman's new TV ads, which claim her prosecution is politically motivated, are a gross attempt to taint the jury pool.

Clearly, no judge will try to limit Workman's political speech.

But Skordas recognizes that an aggressive Workman re-election campaign may harm his ability to give her the best defense. Normally, he said, "I tell my clients not to say anything in public."

Well, Workman can't do that and run a re-election campaign.

But she also doesn't have to walk out on a live radio interview.

Skordas candidly said if Workman can't get to trial and be found innocent, she can't win re-election.

But there's a real possibility that Workman could get to trial, have the charges dismissed against her, and still lose re-election. Remember, she wasn't doing that well in the polls even before she was charged.

Workman's administration may have cut taxes three times (as she likes to point out), but it was also on her watch that several of her top aides and the elected county auditor abused the county car policy, on her watch that other scandals outside of her office, but in county government, broke, and on her watch that she gave big pay raises to her top staffers (before they were found to be improperly using their county cars).

At its heart, Workman's TV ad campaign asks county voters to dismiss Yocom's prosecution "as just politics."

But that means the voters also have to buy into an even more far-reaching, sinister idea: that the county district attorney is corrupt, for only a corrupt prosecutor would file charges against someone for partisan political reasons.

And I don't believe we've ever seen a political campaign based on the premise that a prosecutor is corrupt — that in a county with 40 percent of the state's population a person can't get justice.

Think about that for a moment.

It's a very serious charge. And to get voters past the felony complaints against her — to look at her record as county mayor — that is what Workman is alleging.

Will a plurality of voters buy it?

And if they do, and she's re-elected, where does that leave citizen confidence in justice in the county?

Come Nov. 2, the mayoral vote in Salt Lake County may not only be about Nancy Workman, but a far more complex and deeper vote, as well.


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