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Posted: 11:51 PM- Both banked on a steady message and an old-fashioned foot campaign. Both avoided controversy. And both promised a softer tone at City Hall.

Now, Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler will face off this fall to succeed Rocky Anderson as Salt Lake City's mayor.

Seizing the late momentum, Becker swamped the field Tuesday with 39 percent of the vote. Buhler snagged 28 percent, according to unofficial results.

That left early front-runner Jenny Wilson outside looking in as she failed to follow her father to the mayor's chair.

Surprised by the massive margin, Becker pledged to run the same race in the general election.

"We have been feeling this wave coming our way," he said amid cheers from his campaign headquarters. "I attribute it to getting out and walking door to door, this whole city - meeting people and listening to what people's aspirations and concerns are. It's incredibly good fortune."

Buhler, who thanked his strong base of support, is the first capital Republican in 16 years to make it to a mayoral general election. In 1991, Buhler lost to Deedee Corradini.

"All day [Tuesday], I felt like we could make it," he said, stressing that, as a moderate, he can prevail. "I'm counting on people to see past the party label and vote for me because I'll do the best job."

The primary saw 29 percent turnout, which is sure to spike when voters make the ultimate decision Nov. 6.

Wilson said she expected a tough contest, adding she never thought she was the only one who could run the city.

"The campaign generated a great, collective dialogue," she said, "and I'm proud to be a part of that."

Still, the result brings a familiar theme for the Wilsons: a come-from-ahead loss. In his bid for governor in 1988, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson blew a 25-point lead.

Jenny Wilson said she will endorse Becker since they have the same constituencies.

Despite holding Anderson's endorsement and outspending the field with more than $600,000, Keith Christensen finished a distant fourth, failing to crack a double-digit percentage.

"I'm disappointed that the effort that so many people put into this didn't translate into votes," he said. "I didn't have a natural base of either [party]. And people looked at me and said I wasn't Democratic or Republican enough.

Anderson said his endorsement now is Becker's - if he wants it.

"He'd bring tremendous intelligence and dignity to the office," the mayor said late Tuesday. "Ralph has a very informed, forward-looking, positive approach, which is exactly the opposite of what I've seen from Dave Buhler during eight years on the City Council."

Anderson said he was not surprised at Wilson's showing - "It was hers to lose and she lost it," he said - and he argued his Sunday opinion piece in The Salt Lake Tribune about the trials of serving as mayor with young children did not affect the outcome.

"It had nothing to do with sexism," he said. "Most people saw through that. It was a pretty cheap, political ploy."

Conventional wisdom was that the op-ed could give Wilson, who has two boys 5 and 2, a "mommy bounce" - a sympathy vote. But the reverse may have proved true.

Or, as Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Kirk Jowers opined, Wilson's support simply had "plateaued."

Ted Wilson downplayed Anderson's parental controversy.

"It was a dust-up - maybe a little unfortunate at the end of the race," he told Fox 13. "But everybody saw Jenny's spunk."

Polls gave Wilson an early lead, based largely on name ID, which she held most of the summer. But Becker, buoyed by a relentless grass-roots crew, came on late, and led in the last poll.

Buhler, whose playful ads helped spice his persona, landed most Republicans and Mormons in campaign polls - a trend that likely continued Tuesday.

Christensen stunned the field with mounds of early cash. He tried for traction in early July by jettisoning his GOP label in the nonpartisan race. It didn't work.

Cathy McKitrick contributed to this story.