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Utah GOP to begin public campaign

Program to promote party comes as they ready for convention

Published: Friday, May 9 2008 12:27 a.m. MDT

Perhaps worried that President Bush's poor approval ratings and a dragging economy could harm GOP candidates in November, the Utah Republican Party is starting a public campaign showing what is right about Republicanism and how GOP officeholders have brought prosperity, freedom and well-managed government to Utahns.

The new program comes as Republicans meet in their state convention Saturday in Orem. There, thousands of state delegates will talk about immigration and other political issues, as well as cast ballots for intra-party contests in the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, has two tough challengers in the 3rd District — David Leavitt, former Juab County attorney and younger brother of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt; and Jason Chaffetz, former chief of staff to GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Also in the 3rd District race are Republicans Stone Fonua and Joe "NPC" Ferguson.

And in the 2nd District GOP homebuilder Bill Dew faces former Republican U.S. House member Merrill Cook. Also in the 2nd District race are Republicans Don Ferguson, Kenneth Gray, Brian Jenkins and Chris Jacobs. The GOP winner faces Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

There are some contested races for statewide offices, although the only one that will likely be close is the GOP state treasurer's race. In that, deputy treasurer Richard Ellis faces state Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. does have a challenger, Chuck Smith, although the governor is heavily favored to be the nominee.

If any one of those GOP candidates gets 60 percent of their delegate votes, they are the GOP nominee. If not, then the top two vote-getters face off in a late June closed GOP primary election.

One race seemingly without a contender — the Republican nominee for president — could become a convention fight, however. While Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is the expected nominee, Mitt Romney won Utah's winner-take-all Republican primary, which meant all of Utah's GOP national delegates were pledged to him.

But after Romney dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed McCain, he sent a letter to the Utah Republican Party asking that his delegates be released to vote for McCain.

At Saturday's convention, the GOP will consider a bylaw change that would release the delegates from voting for Romney, and a resolution from McCain supporter and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff that those delegates vote for Romney.

But the resolution isn't binding, which means it's possible delegates Romney intended to go to McCain could vote for someone else, like Ron Paul. In other states, Paul supporters have been able to slot delegates that were freed up by Romney. The tactic even led the Nevada Republican Party to suspend the completion of their convention, held in April, indefinitely.

The issue of illegal immigration is also scheduled to come up at the convention. Delegate and Utah House candidate Robert Wren — he is running in District 54 against David Labrum and Kraig Powell — hopes those attending conventions will approve his proposal to add opposition to "illegal immigration and all forms of amnesty, or legal status for illegal immigrants" to the state GOP platform.

"In general, the Republican Party delegates want something done across the nation about illegal immigration," Wren said. "They are tired of the federal government not doing anything."

Still, Wren acknowledges the issue is a divisive one among conservatives. A similar resolution he presented at the last convention never got a vote. More recently, the conservative Sutherland Institute issued a statement favoring an approach of integration and legalization.

Jorge Arce-Larreta, a GOP delegate and member of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, says he supports Bush's attempt last year to implement a comprehensive approach including a new guest worker system.

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