J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns will get a chance to see some big names in the GOP, including potential presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, later this month at the Western Republican Leadership Conference.
While admission to the April 24-25 conference is priced from $99 to $209, tickets are $10 for a just-announced "United in Utah" rally featuring Cruz and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus along with Utah GOP leaders.
A trio of other possible contenders for the White House in 2016 — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and real estate mogul Donald Trump — turned down invitations, Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said.
States with early presidential primaries, Evans said, "get an advantage over the rest of us" when it comes to booking would-be presidential candidates. In 2012, Utah's June primary was the last in the nation.
There will still be a straw poll of the conference attendees to determine their pick for president, Evans said, that may include Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, even though Utah's "favorite son" candidate says he's not running again.
The conference is expected to attract 50 to 100 Republican activists from Utah and other western states, Evans said, while some 200 party members, corporate sponsors and others will attend a fundraising dinner.
The April 25 rally, set for 7-9 p.m. at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy, is expected to be a bigger draw, attracting Republicans who will attend the party's state convention the following day in the same location.
"We put the price at just 10 bucks to send it out and hopefully drum up some support," Utah GOP Political Director Chase Everton said. "It's a good opportunity for the delegates and any other interested Republicans."
The rally, billed as the GOP's kickoff to the 2014 election season, will also include appearances by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert, Attorney General Sean Reyes and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love.
Love, who is running again for the 4th District congressional seat, faces a challenger for the GOP nomination at the party's convention from retired business executive Bob Fuehr.
Political parties typically avoid trying to showcase one candidate in a contested nomination race, but Evans said Republicans from the region wanted to hear from her.
"She was requested," Evans said. "She certainly is a political celebrity and a draw."
Love's nearly successful bid in 2012 to unseat Utah's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, attracted national attention including a coveted speaking role at the Republican National Convention. Matheson is not seeking re-election.
Dave Hansen, Love's campaign manager and a former state GOP chairman, said while rules prevent the party from endorsing candidates, "this isn't an endorsement. This is bringing on the speakers that the people wanted to hear."
Hansen said her appearance at the rally will have only "minimal" effect on the convention. Candidates need the support of at least 60 percent of the delegates at the convention to avoid a primary election.
Fuehr said in a statement: "Similar to Common Core and the public lands issues, Utahns don't want Washington establishment telling them what to do or who to vote for."
He said his campaign has "great momentum" in the nomination race.
Lee Rech, who handles communications for Fuehr's campaign, said he did not complain to the party about Love being invited to participate.
"There's no grudge. It is what it is," Rech said. "I'm sure Bob will be involved in some capacity."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the Republican regional leadership conferences are the "awards show part" of party politics. "It's more about seeing and being seen than anything else," he said.
The conferences, which include a gathering next month in New Orleans, help keep political donors happy, Burbank said.
"That's the kind of thing donors want to be invited to," he said. "They want to know how their money is being used and that their money gets them access to these types of people."
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