And then there were two.

Saying he couldn't match Merrill Cook's or Jeff Wright's personal money, Mark Emerson left the Republican 2nd Congressional District race Thursday afternoon.Emerson, a former chief of staff to Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, was the first credible Utah Republican to talk about challenging the incumbent Cook this year. Emerson was one of Cook's harshest Republican critics.

Some thought Emerson would be a stalking horse, his candidacy either forcing Cook into retirement or encouraging other Republicans to get in.

"So far the campaign has been a successful and invigorating process," said Emerson in a news release. "I've been humbled by the early support from my friends, family and associates."

But, he said, after "visiting with party officials and further considering the effects of the party's commitment to back the incumbent with all of their financial resources and organizational strength, I have decided to withdraw."

Cook, who over the past decade has spent upwards of $3 million of his own money on various campaigns, has also put money into his 2000 re-election. Cook has put in $222,450 of his own money, although some of that goes to pay for lawyers he's hired in a legal fight against a former campaign consulting firm.

Wright is heir to the Dee family fortune. A venture capitalist, Wright, too, has already put considerable personal resources into his challenge of Cook. The latest Federal Election Commission reports show he has put $250,000 of his own money into his campaign.

Comment on this story

Emerson, who formally started his campaign after the last FEC filing deadline, said while he's been successful in fund raising, "without significant personal resources, I thought it would be too difficult to overcome the effect of recent visits and endorsements from the U.S. House Speaker, majority leader and majority whip," all of whom have endorsed Cook.

Emerson said he will return any left-over campaign funds to the people who gave them. He didn't endorse Cook or Wright, but said they were both "good-hearted individuals."