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Eight Republican incumbents will face challengers from within their own party Saturday during the Salt Lake County GOP convention.

MURRAY — Eight Republican incumbents will face challengers from within their own party Saturday during the Salt Lake County GOP convention.

They, along with candidates in five other contested races for county offices and legislative seats, will compete to win votes from up to 2,600 Republican delegates who will convene at Cottonwood High School, 5715 S. 1300 East.

Meanwhile, 13 Republican incumbents are running for re-election without an opponent from within the party.

"We've got some exciting races this year," Salt Lake County GOP Chairwoman Suzanne Mulet said, noting a high-profile, three-candidate contest for a Senate seat.

Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan, is challenging Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, in the Senate District 10 race that also includes challenger Aleta Taylor.

"That should be a really good race. I'm very, very curious to see what (delegates) decide," said Scott Miller, Salt Lake County GOP vice chairman.

Cunningham is guaranteed a spot on the primary ballot, however, because he gathered signatures under a new process that provides another path to the primary ballot. Because Fillmore and Taylor didn't gather signatures, they must win enough delegates to earn the nomination or force a primary.

It's the first year candidates can gather signatures to gain access to the primary ballot under Utah's controversial election law, SB54. Normally, the party disqualifies candidates who don't win least 40 percent support of convention delegates, but the new law allows candidates to secure a spot on the primary ballot by gathering signatures, advancing through the party's convention system, or both.

As for the House, Miller said the contest between incumbent Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, and former West Valley Mayor Mike Winder will be a "classic underdog fight."

"(Winder) is very, very well-known," Miller said of the former mayor, noting that his name recognition could be an advantage over Cox.

Winder, however, is no stranger to controversy. He was mayor when the West Valley City Police Department came under scrutiny for the fatal officer-involved shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard and problems within the police force's Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, among other issues.

Winder also made headlines in 2011 when he admitted he wrote news stories about West Valley City for the Oquirrh Times and the Deseret News under the name Richard Burwash.

Cox, on the other hand, has experienced some friction within the Legislature. During the 2016 session, he ran into some trouble when a bill he sponsored failed to pass in the House after very brief debate, even though it had support from interim and legislative committees. The bill would have allowed Utahns to wait to circulate a referendum petition until after the governor takes action on legislation.

The year before, Cox helped opponents of the Utah State Prison relocation start a referendum and spoke in favor of keeping the facility in Draper. The prison move was a top priority of House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

Even if Cox gains more than 60 percent of delegate votes, he would still have to face Winder in the primary. Winder has collected enough signatures to guarantee a spot on the primary ballot. Cox, however, did not gather signatures and would need at least 40 percent of delegate support to qualify for the nomination.

Other state races

Other incumbents facing intraparty challenges are:

  • Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who's being challenged by Bevan Weed in District 41.
  • Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, who's facing Adam Gardiner in District 43.
  • Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, who faces a challenge from Shala Weaver in District 44.
  • Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who's facing Stacy Norton in District 47.
  • Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, who's being challenged by Michael Swenson in District 52.
  • Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, who faces a challenge from West Jordan City Councilman Jeff Haaga in District 6.
Meanwhile, two open GOP seats have drawn a crowd of new faces.

Two GOP hopefuls are vying for Cunningham's open House District 50 nomination: Susan Pulsipher and Louis Gary Welch.

Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, isn't seeking re-election, leaving his District 34 nomination up for grabs between Macade Jensen and Jack Castellanos.

Among the 13 Republican incumbents running for re-election without an opponent from within the party are high-ranking lawmakers Hughes and House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

Ten other Republicans are also running in a mix of contested and uncontested races to challenge six Democratic incumbents.

County races

Former Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Dave Robinson is uncontested as the Republican nominee to challenge Democrat Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

All three GOP Salt Lake County Council members up for re-election are also uncontested within the party. But County Councilman Richard Snelgrove, who holds an at-large seat, said it's up to the GOP county incumbents to maintain the 5-4 majority control of Utah's largest county.

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"It's not only important to the taxpayers of Salt Lake County that we be re-elected, it's likewise important to the party," Snelgrove said.

Councilman Michael Jensen is not facing a Democratic challenger. However, Democratic nominees Kim Bowman and Catherine Kanter have both qualified to the primary ballot to challenge Snelgrove. Abigail Wright is the Democratic nominee to challenge County Council Chairman Max Burdick, a Republican.

For a complete list of candidates, visit the Salt Lake County GOP website.

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: KatieMcKellar1