The Utah State Republican Convention may be thrown into disarray Saturday when delegates dissatisfied with Gov. Norm Bangerter's bid for re-election try to nominate independent Merrill Cook for the Republican gubernatorial race.
It was unclear Friday night at the beginning of the convention if Cook would accept such a draft movement or whether it is even legal. Cook was out of town and could not be reached for comment.Republican delegate Mills Crenshaw said a draft-Cook attempt will be made and if Republican party officials attempt to stop it, his group will go to court.
GOP State Chairman Craig Moody said two things must happen before the party will allow Cook to be nominated. One, Cook must say for himself that he wants in. Two, convention delegates must, by a two-thirds vote, suspend their rules to allow Cook to be nominated.
"All this assumes that it is legal and we have attorneys looking at that now," Moody said.
He added that Bangerter, with a single word, could stop the draft-Cook movement. "If the governor doesn't want him in, there is no way two-thirds of the delegates would allow it. And we are looking at a winner-take-all agreement. Would Cook agree to get out of the governor's race even if he got more than 30 percent of the delegate vote but didn't beat the governor?"
David Buhler, Bangerter's campaign chairman, said the governor and his advisers were weighing their options. "We don't know if it is legal or not to nominate an independent candidate. If it is, it might be attractive for us to allow Cook to be nominated and then eliminate him with 70 percent of the vote."
After an hour's conference, several of Bangerter's aides said that if Cook would formally withdraw his independent candidacy, he would be welcomed into the Republican convention. "This would end it one way or the other. Either he would be out in the convention or we would beat him in the primary and then it would just be the governor and (democratic candidate) Ted Wilson," an aide said.
Saturday, 2,500 Republican delegates will vote on statewide candidates during a morning session at Cottonwood High School.
Cook was a Republican before he filed as an independent in the governor's race. He was dissatisfied with the Republican party hierarchy and didn't think he was getting a fair shake. Republican leaders always said Cook was welcome to challenge Bangerter.
Crenshaw - a radio talk show host and a leader in the tax limitation movement - said his group of anti-Bangerter delegates are certain that state election law allows Cook to be nominated. "The law says any duly filed candidate can be nominated in a convention."
He added that the law does not say which political convention the candidate can be nominated in. "Cook could be nominated in the Republican convention, the Democratic convention, any convention. If they (republican party leaders) don't allow us to nominate Merrill, we will go to court and I guarantee you, these people will be having another Republican convention in a month so we can."
The move to nominate Cook came as a surprise, catching Republican party officials and Bangerter's campaign leaders off guard. Bangerter's people were preparing for a delegate fight with W. Dean Samuels, a Jordan High School teacher who has filed as a Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Buhler said it is tempting to allow Cook into the Republican race. "But we don't know if he will abide by the convention's decision. If he was knocked out, would he quit or continue to run an independent campaign?"
The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows that Democrat Ted Wilson is favored by 49 percent of the voters, Bangerter by 30 percent and Cook by 11 percent. If Cook could be eliminated in the Republican convention and his candidacy ended, Bangerter's chances for re-election would be greatly enhanced.
Utah Attorney General David Wilkinson was at the convention Friday night. He said he has not been formally asked for an opinion on whether Cook could be nominated in the convention. "I don't know if we can give an opinion by Saturday," Wilkinson said.
Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kansas, was to speak Friday night, but his airplane had mechanical problems. He'll address the delegates Saturday.