Longtime GOP operative Dave Hansen wants to run the Utah Republican Party for the next two years, and he's lining up big hitters to support him.

Hansen says he will "likely" run for party chairman this June to replace retiring party chairman Stan Lockhart. State GOP delegates will select new party leaders in their off-year convention.

Todd Weiler, current party vice chairman, told the Deseret News late Monday that he's dropping out of the chairmanship's race. He plans to run for vice chairman again and endorses Hansen for the top post.

"Dave is one of the great, brightest political minds of our generation," said Weiler. "I'd be honored to serve two years with him."

"I would hope that I wouldn't have a challenger" for chairman, said Hansen on Monday, "but perhaps I will," as rumors continue to fly about other possible party-chairman candidates.

Hansen, 61, has been the party's state executive director twice, from 1979 to 1984 and from 1991 to 1993. The executive director is a paid position and heads the party staff.

Hansen has run a number of local and national races and worked for the national Senate Republican committee, as well.

Hansen is currently overseeing Sen. Orrin Hatch's political issues in Utah as a consultant (Hansen is not on the federal payroll, but on Hatch's campaign payroll). Hansen also does consulting for Overstock.com, an Internet sales firm run by Patrick Byrne, a Park City resident who has been involved in a number of conservative Utah political issues; and K.S. Hart, a charitable organization associated with former Envirocare owner Khosrow Semnani. Hansen has been a registered lobbyist on Utah's Capitol Hill but didn't represent any clients there this year, he said.

Hansen said he has the support of Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, as well as other party leaders.

It is an unwritten rule in Utah GOP politics that the next major officeholder seeking re-election has some say in who the party chairman is during that run — and Bennett is up for re-election in 2010.

"It is safe to say that if I didn't have the support of the senators, I wouldn't be running" for party chairman, said Hansen. He added that as chairman, he would be impartial in intra-party races, trying to get all Republicans elected and keep current seats in GOP hands.

"A chairman can't really influence internal elections," even if he wanted to, said Hansen. The state party oversees conventions, but county clerks run primary party elections.

However, Hansen did promise not to make some of the "mistakes" — if they are even called that — of some previous party administrations. For example, the use of the party mailing privileges should be available to all legitimate GOP candidates, not just incumbents, he said.

Hansen said that Lockhart, Weiler and current executive director Ivan DuBois "have done a magnificent job" in getting and keeping the party in the black financially.

And in the 2008 elections, Utah Republicans did well, "except for one area — the southeast area — of Salt Lake County."

Republicans lost one state Senate and two House seats in that area, and lost control of the Salt Lake County Council, as well. County government is now controlled by Democrats, and it was controlled by Republicans just four years ago.

"My focal point will be Salt Lake County," said Hansen. "We have to do better here."

Hansen said it is wrong to say that he is the anointed candidate of party officeholders and thus will automatically win. "If I've learned one thing in all these years" of working in Utah Republican politics, it is that "delegates don't take direction well," he joked. He will have to go out and earn delegates votes at the June convention, and he says he will. "I have the expertise to move this party forward," he said.

Should he win, Hansen said, he won't take a party salary but volunteer his time, earning his income by working for Hatch and his other consulting clients.

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