With industrialist Jon Huntsman out of the Republican governor's race, Gov. Norm Bangerter can redirect his efforts and money in his uphill re-election fight.
Bangerter campaign manager Dave Buhler says he feels like an inexperienced driver. "I've shifted gears so much my transmission is ruined. Now we shift gears again."Huntsman's pullout which was as much of a surprise as his entry into the race a month ago means Bangerter can start raising some serious cash and stop worrying about a state convention and primary battle.
Huntsman withdrew from the race Wednesday, saying he hadn't expected his candidacy to have such a fragmenting effect on the Republican Party.
"We must have party unity," he said. Also, he said new business opportunities had arisen that he must take advantage of. Huntsman is the owner of America's largest private chemical company.
"We hadn't been doing much fund raising," said Buhler. "We were concentrating on (state) delegate work and the mass meetings." Buhler figured rightly that Bangerter had to corral as many GOP state delegates as possible and make a good showing in the April 25 Republican mass meetings, now called party caucuses.
A strong showing in the mass meetings and in the June convention would give the governor momentum entering the primary election race against Huntsman.
"We had enough money to get us through the convention," Buhler said. "But I was worried about funding the primary race. What if Huntsman dropped in $500,000 of his own money and we couldn't raise much?"
That big worry is gone.
Now it's concentrate on Democrat Ted Wilson all the way down the line.
Bangerter still works from a position of weakness. He trailed Huntsman in the polls and he trails Wilson by even greater margins up to 30 points.
But he can now raise money, at least. "We'll now start our fund raising in full stride," Buhler said. Potential givers now know that Bangerter will be the only Republican choice in the race, and they might as well give now as later. Buhler hadn't even organized a fund-raising committee before, saying that with Huntsman in the race the governor had to personally raise funds. "Anyone else asking for money just wouldn't have been well received.
"Like it or not for some people, the governor is the most conservative choice of the men who can win. (Independent candidate) Merrill Cook can't win, and that's a fact," Buhler said. "So it's between Wilson and Bangerter. That's the race it should have been all along, and that's the race it is."
In getting out of the race, Huntsman asked that Bangerter and others work to unify the party. It's been split since Bangerter and the Republican Legislature adopted a $160-million tax increase last year. That tax hike spawned the tax-limitation movement, whose leaders have embraced Cook's independent candidacy.
But Buhler confirmed Wednesday that Bangerter won't change his stand on the tax limitation initiative petitions he's still against them. And that means the tax protesters won't accept or forgive him.
"We can only go so far" toward unification, Buhler said. "We'll never get the hard-core tax protesters. They can throw their vote away on Cook, or they can realize that Bangerter is the most conservative governor they can get. We hope they'll come over to us."