Although Utah is a small state, it showed its importance to national GOP circles Saturday when the Republican State Convention attracted two possible vice-presidential candidates and the national party co-chair-woman.
"It's unbelievable," said State Party Chairman Craig Moody. "We thought maybe we would get one, but tried for two anyway. Then we ended up with three. Vice President George Bush almost came too, but had to cancel. This says something about what they think of us."The big three who came were U.S. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, who is also a former presidential candidate; Interior Secretary Donald Hodel; and National Party Co-Chairwoman Maurine Reagan, President Reagan's daughter.
The three rallied delegates - who had spent much of the convention bickering about drafting Merrill Cook for governor - into at least unifying behind George Bush for president and to push for Republican wins in Congress.
The three used their speeches and interviews with the press to depict apparent Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, as "looney liberals," and said a Bush victory is essential to continue the "Reagan Revolution."
Hodel and Dole, who are often mentioned as possible running mates for Bush, also used their Utah visit to hint that they are interested in the vice presidency - but down-played their chances of actually being nominated.
"That's not a job I'm seeking," Dole said, although he would not rule out the possibility that he might be offered it and would accept.
He added that his wife - former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole - did better in a vice presidential poll held during Utah Republican Caucuses in April. "Obviously, she's the strongest candidate in the family."
Hodel said he also is not seeking the vice presidency - even though he said people incorrectly assume he is because of his campaigning for Republicans in several states. He said he would take the job if offered, and said a Westerner such as himself may help balance the ticket.
Even Maurine Reagan was talking about vice-presidential candidates. She said every list she has seen has included some women, such as Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan.; former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; and Elizabeth Dole. "We may have a woman this year. If not, we will in 1992 or 1996. It will happen someday."
But more than worrying about who will be the second person on the Republican ticket, the three big-name Republicans issued a battle cry for state Republicans to keep Dukakis out of the White House and keep Democrats from making gains in Congress.
"Republicans voting for Michael Dukakis is like chickens voting for Col. Sanders," Hodel said of the Massachusetts governor. "I think Michael Dukakis is threatening us when he says he wants to do for us what he did for Massachusetts," saying he opposed allowing the pledge of allegiance in school rooms and has not been strong enough against Communism.
Hodel said that during Reagan's two terms, "We rallied to a cause, not a man. . . . Our next president will decide whether we go forth with the Reagan revolution."
Dole said the nation needs someone with experience to handle people such as Soviet Premier Mikail Gorbachev. "I want someone with on-the-job experience. That's one more reason why I support George Bush. He's at every cabinet meeting and knows what's going on."
But Maurine Reagan said, "The race for president this year will be extremely close." She said nationally, the party is trying to organize more grass-roots level campaigning to help, and is even organizing the first-ever national list of party volunteers.
She said the national party worries that it may also lose ground in Congress because she claims Democratic-controlled state legislatures have gerrymandered boundaries to favor Democrats. "In my home state of California, 60 percent of the people voted Republican but we only have 40 percent of the congressmen."
So she said the national party will target many gubernatorial and legislative races to try to rectify gerrymandering after the 1990 census.
Hodel also urged local Republicans to unseat Owens, the only Democrat in Utah's congressional delegation. He said Owens is a "looney liberal" like Dukakis, and said his recent call to put wolves back in Yellowstone Park, despite opposition by the Republican Wyoming delegation, proves it.
"He has the attitude that the federal government knows best, and should do what it wants despite the desires of local people. So he tries to shove the wolves down their throats," he told the Deseret News.
"I too want the wolves in Yellowstone someday. But that will happen only when the neighbors are convinced it is the thing to do. You need local cooperation, especially because it is so easy to destroy the wolves."