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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Mia Love, Republican candidate in 4th Congressional District

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republicans and Democrats are gathering Saturday for their annual conventions, but it's not the candidates competing for party nominations who are attracting attention.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, is coming to Utah to appear at the Western Republican Leadership Conference for more than 100 GOP leaders from Utah and surrounding states.

On Thursday and Friday, the conference will feature panels on topics that include reaching out to minority and women voters and conclude with the United in Utah Rally that costs $10 to attend.

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said that while much of the business at Saturday's convention at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy will be perfunctory, he wants to remind the state's majority party "why we've been successful to date. It's because we've been united."

In an election year likely to produce few high-profile competitive races in Utah, Evans said Republicans need to stay involved, even if that means helping out-of-state candidates through volunteering at the new GOP call center in Utah County.

"We are a net exporter of conservatism and Republicanism," Evans said, noting the call center is already contacting voters in several out-of-state Senate races. "We want to remind our base as well we have a positive impact on other states."

Democrats are bringing in Jim Dean, the brother of former presidential candidate Howard Dean, to lead a Democracy for America training session. The main event at their state convention Saturday at the Salt Palace, however, is the battle for Utah Democratic Party chairman.

Former Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and former Utah County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Davis are both seeking the job vacated earlier this year by state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, for undisclosed medical reasons.

Corroon, who lost to Gov. Gary Herbert in the 2010 governor's race, said "we need to be proud to be Democrats, but we do need to focus on the issues that resonate statewide," such as education.

Davis, a political science professor at BYU, said Democrats need to better connect with voters throughout the state.

"The message is the Democratic Party needs to be seen not as the gay marriage party," he said.

Matt Lyon, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said he doesn't believe there's a call for a shift in the party's direction with the resignation of Dabakis, a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage.

"I don't really get the sense there's any big change or push on where people want to go with it," Lyon said.

He said Dabakis will be honored at the party's annual fundraising dinner the night before the convention.

Both the GOP and Democratic conventions have contested races that party delegates can either settle or send to a primary election in June. It takes the support of at least 60 percent of the delegates to avoid a primary.

All three of Utah's GOP congressmen, Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart, face convention challengers. Two candidates, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love and retired businessman Bob Fuehr, are vying for the 4th District nomination.

In 2012, Love attracted support from national Republican leaders and nearly beat Utah's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, who is not seeking re-election.

Attorney Doug Owens, the son of late Utah Democratic Congressman Wayne Owens, is expected to be the Democratic nominee in the 4th District. Owens is being challenged by engineer Bill Peterson.

In the 1st District, 2012 Democratic nominee Donna McAleer will face Ogden doctor Peter Clemens. There is also a race between Clare Collard and LeGrand Peeples for the state Senate District 12 seat held by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.

Thatcher also faces a GOP challenger, as do Sens. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal; and Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City; and Reps. Mel Brown, R-Coalville; Kraig Powell, R-Heber City; and Jerry Anderson, R-Price.

There are Republican races in four Utah Senate and five state House districts also on the state convention agenda because they represent more than one county.

GOP delegates will also consider resolutions supporting the transfer of public lands, partisan school board elections and legal action against the Legislature's recent compromise on the Count My Vote initiative creating an alternative to the caucus and convention system for nominating candidates.

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