Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
View videos at left of delegates Marla Howard, Judy Moore and Kameron Simmons, speaking about the issues.
SALT LAKE CITY — Republican candidates in two of Utah's most hotly contested races are doing everything they can to amass money and delegates in an effort to avoid a primary election.
In the new 4th Congressional District, leading candidates Mia Love, Stephen Sandstrom and Carl Wimmer have their noses to the grindstone courting delegates as Saturdays' state GOP convention approaches. Wimmer is knocking on doors; Sandstrom is packing people into restaurants; Love is working the phones — all in the effort to win over 60 percent of the delegates.
Hitting the magic number at the convention means no primary election, freeing the nominee to focus on ousting Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. The six-term congressman jumped from the 2nd District to the 4th District after state lawmakers redrew congressional boundaries.
"I think the delegate race is very tight," Sandstrom said.
A June primary election appears likely between any two of the three top GOP challengers, who differ on whether that would help or hurt the party's chances in November. Candidates Jay Cobb and Kenneth Gray don't appear to have the momentum to carry them through the convention.
Meantime, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is pushing hard to avoid a primary with top challenger Dan Liljenquist in the U.S. Senate race.
The six-term senator has spent nearly $2.5 million and raised $1.25 million since the first of the year, according to financial disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission this past week. He also has an ample war chest — about $3 million — should he be forced into a primary.
Hatch has spent about 10 times as much as Liljenquist so far. A former state senator, Liljenquist has spent $227,000 and raised almost $170,000, mostly from individual donors. He also loaned his campaign $300,000, which he said was needed due to officially getting into the race only five months ago.
Still, Liljenquist remains upbeat about his chances at the state convention.
"We're staffed by volunteers, and we're running a grassroots campaign," Liljenquist said. "We're meeting with delegates every day. … I think a lot of people are going into the convention undecided."
Whether having Republicans go at each other is good or bad for the party is a matter of opinion.
In the 4th District, Wimmer calls it "extremely risky" to have GOP candidates spend time and resources battling each other instead of Matheson.
"I'm asking the delegates to make sure they finish the job at the convention," he said.
So is Love, though she said, "Either way, we'll do well."
Sandstrom doesn't see a primary hurting a Republican's chances of beating the congressman. It would allow the contenders to debate issues and differentiate themselves, he said.
"A primary can be healthy for the party as long as we don't do what the presidential candidates did, and that's bludgeon each other," Sandstrom said.
Sandstrom, Wimmer and Love have amassed healthy campaign coffers in the current election cycle, though there is some dispute over who raised the most this past quarter.
Wimmer sent out a press release saying the $91,767 he brought in this year tops the field.
"I have raised the most this quarter. Period. End of story," he said. "You have to use fuzzy math to think otherwise."
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