Utah County Republican legislative candidates are fuming after the state party sent out a mailer that seems to endorse the Republican incumbents they are challenging.

The flier advertises an April 10 fundraiser for Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, and Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem. It includes a line that says, "Paid for by the Utah Republican Party," and the party's postal rate number.

Challengers fear that delegates will feel pressure to cast their vote for the incumbents, since the mailer was paid for by the party.

"They are just telling you who they want you to vote for," said Jared Sepulveda, who is running against Sumsion in District 56. "If they want to do this after the primaries are done, that's fine. But not now."

State party bylaws do not allow party officers, national committee members and paid staff to publicly endorse or oppose any Republican candidate over another in a convention or primary election.

But state GOP Chairman Stan Lockhart said "it doesn't amount to an endorsement at all."

To make things right, Lockhart said he's offered the challengers the chance to send out a mailer paid for by the party as well.

"The party works very hard to treat all Republican candidates the same," Lockhart said. "We take that very seriously."

Lisa Shepherd, who is running against Grover in District 61, said the mailer is a "direct violation of Republican rules."

"It completely looks like an official document of the party," Shepherd said. "It's against the bylaws to take a stand or play favorites or anything until you've come out of the primary."

Lockhart said the whole mess is a case of bad timing.

He said the freshman legislators came to him during the session and asked for help. However, party workers were so busy with caucus preparations that the mailing was delayed.

Lockhart said he never intended to have the mailer go out this late. It was supposed to go out before the March 17 candidate filing deadline.

E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com