A Utah House GOP candidate says he was encouraged by a county party officeholder to get out of his race but declined to do so.

Rob Alexander is one of two Republicans who filed against Democratic incumbent Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray. Rick Taylor also filed for the House District 35 seat.

In a comment post to a Deseret News article on Monday, Alexander says that after he filed at the request of Salt Lake County Chairman James Evans, he got a telephone call from Carrie Towner, a Senate District chairwoman. Even though Towner was from a different Senate district than is Alexander, she asked him to get out of the race, since Taylor, a candidate she supports and asked to run, was already in the race, Alexander said.

Alexander's complaint comes on the heels of other allegations that GOP insiders were trying to get other GOP candidates they didn't support out of races, or clearly favored Republican incumbents.

But Towner says Alexander misinterpreted her telephone call. While she did recruit Taylor, she said she called both candidates after the filing deadline to suggest that they get together and decide if one or the other "really didn't want to run" — and thus a party convention, and perhaps a primary, could be avoided.

"I didn't pressure (Alexander) to get out any more than I did (Taylor)," she said.

But Alexander said he found Towner's call odd — especially since she was not from his Senate district. "She was passing herself off as my district chair, a person who supposedly had some kind of authority over me. She is not from my district. She made it clear that (Taylor) was not going to get out (of the race) and asked if I wanted to. It was all kind of fishy. Both she and (Taylor) were at the same meeting where James announced that I would run for this seat and they didn't say anything," Alexander said in an interview.

While it is against party rules for a party officer to take sides in an intra-party challenge, Evans said that rule only applies to the current chairman, vice chairman, treasurer and secretary of individual county parties and the state party, not to other party officeholders, like a Senate district chair, as is Towner.

"So no rule was violated" by the telephone call, said Evans.

Towner and her husband, Mark, have been active for years in the Utah Republican Party. Carrie Towner ran for the 2nd Congressional District in 2002, being eliminated in the state convention. She ran for state party vice chair in 2007, losing that race as well. In the early 2000s she served for a while as the Salt Lake County GOP treasurer.

Evans added that he did not specifically push Alexander to run. Rather, Evans said, in a Salt Lake County GOP central committee meeting on the Saturday before the candidate filing period ended the following Monday, he addressed the 435 committee members asking that anyone who lived in a legislative district where Republicans didn't have a candidate to please run.

Evans said Alexander came up to him and introduced himself and said he would run in District 35, which was unfilled after the candidate who ran in 2006 at the last minute decided not to run again.

"We had a hole. I wanted it filled. I wanted to have candidates in every race. I told (Alexander) to run. But then I was telling everyone to run," said Evans. Evans said he didn't remember ever meeting Alexander before. "I don't know all of the precinct chairs in the county (Republican Party) — although I would like to — there are so many," said Evans.

He told central committee members that if more than one good GOP candidate filed for an office, "that was fine by me, let four or five file."

But he also added that if two or more good candidates filed, they may want to sit down among themselves "and see if they really want to run, really want to do this." And if one or more decided to drop out of the race, that was OK, too.

In fact, Evans announced Monday that former Utah House member Susan Lawrence had decided to drop out of the race to regain her old District 36 seat in the Millcreek area of Salt Lake County. Evans said Lawrence talked it over with Drew B. Quinn, another Republican challenging Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Millcreek, who had unseated Lawrence two years ago.

"Susan decided to get out of the race. She met (Quinn) and said if (he) couldn't win, she couldn't win," said Evans.

The situation is similar in District 35, said Evans, and he said it was "curious" that Alexander was now complaining about a telephone call from Carrie Towner.

"Carrie was on a candidate recruitment committee the last two years, since the 2006 elections. And so she and others have been looking for candidates" countywide. When the 2006 GOP candidate, who was expected to run again, decided not to run at the last minute, Evans said he and other county GOP activists started beating the bushes — and no doubt that is when Towner found Taylor and asked him to run.

"We don't do what the Democrats do all the time. They pick one person and run them" with few intra-party fights, said Evans. Republicans have multiple candidates in many races, said Evans. "And we only said: 'If this is something you really don't want to do, and if we have a good candidate in the race already, then feel free"' to get out, said Evans.

Alexander said he'd still file as a candidate again, even with what has happened. "If I lose this time, I'll file again in years ahead. I want to be involved, I want to serve."

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