Anyone looking for a dogfight between two candidates attempting to replace the most powerful woman in the Utah Legislature should probably check out a World War II history book.
There's not likely to be much spitfire between Democrat George F. Tripp and Republican David N. Cox in House District 56. The pair see each other every Sunday. They're in the same LDS Church ward in Lehi. In fact, they recently worked together in priesthood leadership positions.And if that's not enough, Tripp was Cox's bishop while he was growing up.
"Where did I go wrong?" Tripp, 72, asks with a laugh. "No, Dave's a good boy."
Cox, 44, also expressed admiration for Tripp. "I think the world of him," he said.
"I think it will be a campaign between two gentlemen," said Utah County Republican Party Chairman Rod Fudge. "It won't get into a kicking contest."
Whoever wins the Nov. 3 election will have big shoes to fill. Christine Fox-Finlinson, who resigned after getting married and moving out of the area, had served in the Legislature since 1987 and was the House majority leader. Independent American Party candidate Sheila E. Heindel will also be on the ballot.
Associates urged Tripp to run against Fox-Finlinson in the past, but he said he declined because she was doing a good job.
Fox-Finlinson joins several other veteran Republican lawmakers from Utah County who won't be returning to the Hill. Local Democrats see that as an opportunity to swipe a couple of seats from the exclusively GOP delegation.
"We're optimistic," said Bob Davis, Utah County Democratic Party chairman. "I think we have a shot for at least one or two." He foresees Tripp, a former Lehi mayor, beating Cox in a squeaker.
Spencer Stokes, state GOP executive director, conceded last month that the Tripp-Cox matchup is one the Republicans could lose.
Tripp is rallying Republicans to cross over into Democratic territory. Even though he's conservative, he finds it tough being a member of the decidedly minority party in Utah Valley.
"People think you can't be a member of the LDS Church and be a Democrat," he said. "That's a fallacy people have."
Tripp, who has served on various government boards over the years, said he's running because the Legislature is out of balance. One party is making all the decisions and there's not much meaningful debate on key issues, he said. Tripp also sees an overall lack of planning when it comes to growth and transportation.
Fudge believes Cox will be able to keep the district, which includes Lehi, northern American Fork and Cedar Valley, in Republican hands. The county party has targeted the race as key and intends to pump money into Cox's campaign.
"Dave Cox is a good person. He's known in that area. But so is his opponent," he said.
Even though Tripp has name recognition, Fudge said, he thinks the people moving into rapidly growing northern Utah County will want to support Republican candidates.
Cox, a fifth-grade teacher at Lehi Elementary School, runs under the banner "mainstream not extreme" to distinguish himself from the GOP's far right.
"There are some people who think I'm not conservative. I am conservative, but I also think we need to be fair," he said.
Education would be Cox's primary focus as a legislator. Legislative decisions, he said, haven't always been in the best interest of public schools.
Cox also wants to dispel the rumor that he didn't vote in the June primary election, a rumor that Stokes helped spread. Although he was out of town on the day of the election, Cox said, he cast an absentee ballot before he left. "I was probably the first in the district to vote," he said.
The two pew-sharing candidates promise a vigorous but clean race, one in which Cox thinks Tripp already has a leg up.
"It's hard to keep up with someone who's retired," Cox said.
Fudge said some people think Tripp might be too old for a political campaign. Tripp doesn't think so. "I'm in good health. I feel good. I've never been one to sit around," he said.