GOP selects Huntsman, Karras

Cannon is forced into primary battle in the 3rd District

Published: Sunday, May 9 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Nolan Karras and Jon Huntsman Jr. congratulate each other after the two advanced to the primary.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

Jon Huntsman Jr. led from the first round of voting and came out of the state GOP convention Saturday night — as many insiders expected. But he's matched against a different opponent than many anticipated — Board of Regents chairman Nolan Karras, a former speaker of the Utah House.

Not known for his wide grins, Karras was all smiles — and his supporters were shouting madly — as party chairman Joe Cannon called Karras' name after nearly four hours of vote counting to winnow the field down from eight candidates.

And the closeness of the race — 51 percent of the 3,500 delegates voted for Huntsman to Karras' 49 percent — was a surprise too.

But the day also was full of sadness.

Gov. Olene Walker was knocked out of contention. Utah's first female governor is the first sitting chief executive to lose an election bid in 48 years.

"It's some relief to be going back to just being the governor," said Walker. "I would not have done anything different. I am just delighted I have a few more months to be governor."

And Merit Medical CEO Fred Lampropoulos spent more than $2 million of his own cash only to lose. Lampropoulos' fall was quick. He was considered nearly a shoo-in only days ago. As late as Friday, Lampropoulos was running radio advertisements saying "I'll see you in the primary."

It wasn't to be.

"I don't feel bad," said Lampropoulos, who finished third. "I'm going home and finish the back yard at our new house and have a swimming party. I am fine, and it was fun."

Another shocker was four-term Rep. Chris Cannon, forced into a primary with former Utah House member Matt Throckmorton in the 3rd Congressional District.

Not unexpected were the 2nd District results: Another match-up — maybe as bitter as before — between John Swallow and Tim Bridgewater for the chance to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.

The convention marked the end of political comeback hopes — at least for now — for several other former elected officials. Former Utah House GOP heavyweights Mel Brown and Byron Harward both failed in their bids to return to the Legislature.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen, who retired after 22 years in Congress only to resurface as a GOP contender in the governor's race, finished sixth out of the eight gubernatorial candidates — the first political race he's ever lost. He told delegates during the campaign that if he lost he would not run again.

And Utahns won't have current House Speaker Marty Stephens anymore. Stephens, who many considered a gubernatorial front-runner last summer, stumbled too, finishing fifth.

In the end, Walker's bid to be the first elected woman governor was sunk by a number of factors. She admits her vetoes of two controversial bills was unpopular among some GOP delegates. And her late entry in the race left her scrambling for campaign staff and money. And there was the inescapable reality that some delegates say she was too moderate.

But her campaign may have been the critical factor that pushed her good friend Karras into the primary runoff with Huntsman. Under the "instant runoff balloting" used at the convention, most of Walker's support shifted to Karras once she dropped off after the fifth round of voting. That support shot Karras past Lampropoulos into the second primary slot.

Lampropoulos and Karras were running neck and neck throughout the first six rounds of voting. That is until 65 percent of Walker's support shifted to Karras.

Walker would not say whether she endorses Karras, only that he was her friend.

Lampropoulos says there is "no question" he was the target of last-minute rumor-mongering that hurt his front-runner status, but he was philosophical about the loss and considers himself wiser for the experience, refusing to blame the rumors for his loss.

"If I decide to run again, maybe the rumors and questions would be behind us," he said. "But I am not upset. It is the way the process worked."

Karras, meanwhile, was basking in the win and pondering the thought of facing off against Huntsman, another millionaire. But the convention, Karras said, "proves that money doesn't do it all. Fred's a wonderful guy (but) he spent a lot of money and comes away empty-handed. And I don't mean that in any mean way. At some point, money doesn't work. Frankly, we'll just go with the people who know what it is like to make a mortgage payment."

Karras said it was his speech at the convention that put him over the top. "I think some people were waiting to see if we had the energy to go against a primary or against Matheson in the fall. And I think we laid those fears away."

Huntsman said he was not disappointed by the narrow win. "All along we just wanted to get out (of convention)," he said. "I'll be saying the same things over the next 10 months. We're going to work hard. It's not the money (you spend), its how hard you work. And that hard work will be more important than the cost of a primary."

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