Independent candidate Merrill Cook was born and reared in Salt Lake City, where his father was a chemistry professor at the University of Utah.

He graduated from the U. in economics in 1969. That fall he married his wife, Camille, and they moved to Boston, when Cook had been accepted into the Harvard Graduate School of Business.After graduating from Harvard, Cook went to work for a Massachusetts management consulting firm. After three years, he returned to Utah, where he and his father started Cook Associates Inc. and Cook Slurry.

Cook's father had invented a new method of making mining explosives, and Cook helped invent a truck to deliver the slurry mix. The company prospered, and with his financial future secure, Cook turned to public service.

In 1984 Cook ran for the state school board; he was defeated. In 1985 he ran for Salt Lake mayor and lost. The next year, Cook ran for the Salt Lake County Commission; he barely lost that race.

He ran as an independent for governor after, he maintains, Republican Party leaders made it clear they were supporting Gov. Norm Bangerter for the Republican nomination.