SALT LAKE CITY — Now that Utah is officially getting a fourth seat in the U.S. House, there's no stopping the speculation surrounding the race.
The boundaries of the new district reapportioned to the state Tuesday as a result of the 2010 Census won't be set by the GOP-controlled Legislature until next fall.
Even so, possible candidates are already expressing interest — and offering suggestions for carving out the new Congressional district.
"I am seriously considering it," Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said. "I have gotten a tremendous amount of pressure from tea party leaders in the state of Utah asking me to run."
Wimmer, one of the Legislature's leading conservatives, said they've been urging him to run for months because of his record of supporting a constitutionally limited government.
"I would say it would be very difficult for another candidate to come into the race and run to the right of me, whoever that candidate would be," Wimmer said.
He said he wants to see the four districts divided so that each includes a portion of the state's population center in Salt Lake County as well as rural areas of the state.
But another potential candidate, outgoing House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said the new seat should represent southern Utah.
"I think they deserve the opportunity to be heard," he said, noting the area represents the largest population base in Utah outside of the Wasatch Front.
Clark said it's too soon to say whether he'll run. He had long been considered a likely candidate for a fourth seat, but then lost the speakership last month to Speaker-elect Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
Lockhart's powerful new role has her being touted as a possible candidate, along with a fellow female Utah County lawmaker, Sen. Margaret Dayton of Orem, head of the Senate rules committee.
Another name on the list is Morgan Philpot, who narrowly lost this year's 2nd District race to Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. Philpot said he is "definitely" interested in making another run for Congress but is waiting to see how the boundaries will be re-drawn before deciding which district.
"I really don't know how they're going to draw the lines," Philpot said, suggesting the 2nd District be kept as intact as possible. "I'd love to be able to serve as a congressman to those people."
Matheson had proposed an independent redistricting commission be formed to help avoid what he called the gerrymandering of his district after the 2000 Census to include many rural areas of the state.
But that idea was rejected and it will be up to the 2011 Legislature to re-draw both the U.S. House and the legislative districts based on the census results. The numbers needed to adjust the legislative districts won't be available until the end of the session in March, however.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the members of the redistricting committee won't be named until then, although he has already selected Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, as the Senate chairman.
The committee will hold public hearings around the state through the summer, Waddoups said, before coming up with a proposal that will go to a special session of the Legislature — likely in September or October.
He said new technology should make it easier for Utahns to offer their own suggested boundaries. "Anybody can draw a perfect district," Waddoups said. "The problem is drawing a perfect district that integrates with the other perfect districts."
He predicted the open seat would make the process less political than in the past. "Before there were three (districts) and three incumbents," said Waddoups, who was part of the 1990 and 2000 redistricting efforts.
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said there's even a possibility all four seats could be open next election.
Third District Rep. Jason Chaffetz is already looking at running for Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat. Matheson may also join that race. And there's talk that 1st District Rep. Rob Bishop would run for something else, too.
"It's once in a generation you have this many big seats that may be open," Jowers said. "A lot of people are exploring things right now."
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