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Utah's Republican Party is strong, still the party of choice of most citizens.

But the defeats of 1990 must be addressed, say the three candidates for state party chairman. Not surprisingly, Robert Holmes, Bruce R. Hough and Mark Taylor - the candidates in the race - each feel they have the best answers.In the June 22 state GOP organizing convention at Highland High School, the 2,400-or-so Republican state delegates will pick new party officers. Current Chairman Richard Snelgrove isn't seeking re-election, so a new chairman will be elected to the two-year, volunteer post.

Holmes, Hough and Taylor have each attended as many county GOP conventions as possible, giving speeches and seeking support. For Republicans, chairmanship races have traditionally been tame. In dominating the political scene, Republicans had little to argue about. But following the 1990 losses, Republicans are asking more of their party leaders.

Some blame was bound to surface after the relatively poor showing in the elections, where Republicans lost seats in the Utah House and Senate (while still maintaining majorities in both bodies), lost the heavily Republican 3rd Congressional District to Democrat Bill Orton, lost to Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, in his most one-sided victory yet and lost control of the Salt Lake County Commission for the first time in a dozen years. (Snelgrove counters that Republican candidates still won 70 percent of their races.)

"The party is clearly not meeting its full potential," says Hough, 37, the former CEO of Bonneville International's satellite operation. "Some want to give up. I say we can't walk away. In many ways, the Republican Party today is at the same point as the Democratic Party was in the early 1970s - they were the majority party and held the governorship. But they lost enthusiasm. They fed upon themselves. They lost the majority."

Holmes says recent past chairmen, except Jack Roberts who served as an interim chairman, had their own personal political agendas, which took time away from purely party work.

He says, "There's nothing wrong with Richard Snelgrove or (former chairman) Craig Moody having their own agendas, as long as they take care of party business along with their own political business. I bring no personal agenda. None. I'm at an age and position in business where I can and will commit all my energies to rebuilding the party. I promise to serve two years and not to run for any political office myself."

Taylor and Hough also say they won't run for any other office during their chairmanship term, although they don't rule out some political campaign in the future.

All three say that while Republicans are in control of the state - both legislative, gubernatorial and federal offices - the party must rejuvenate. "This is a critical time in the party. Basically, we have to reconstruct the party organization," says Hough.

Taylor says he's best able to do that because he's the only one of the three to serve as a county chairman. (He just finished a term as Davis County GOP chairman.)

"The Davis County Republican Party is in the black; we've never been in the red. We've held a number of successful fund-raisers and candidate recruitments," says Taylor.

He's also been through the fire of a bitter intraparty primary race - the 1990 Davis County Commission contest. Democrats ultimately won a seat on the commission because of the divisive primary - the first time there's been a Democratic commissioner in years.

Snelgrove has been second-guessed for months ever since 3rd District GOP contestants cut each other up in a convention and primary race last year. Many Republican leaders were embarrassed by the fight. While not criticizing Snelgrove, all three chairman candidates say they would have brought GOP primary finalists John Harmer and Karl Snow together early and established ground rules.

Said Holmes, "I'd have sat down with John and Karl for one hour, one day or one month until we hashed out the proper way to run the campaigns. It takes that kind of effort."

Hough says the GOP delegation - Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, Gov. Norm Bangerter and Rep. Jim Hansen - should be called in early to mediate. Taylor says the deep-rooted problems in the 3rd District weren't recognized early enough and too little done after they were.

Whoever wins June 22, the new chairman has some serious work ahead, the three said. A state party debt must be retired, a new executive director found and 1992 candidate recruitment started.

Political success "is not just the number of offices we hold as Republicans - although that is one measure," said Hough. "More, it is the attitude of the rank-and-file and of the people whose philosophy is the same as yours, but who won't join (the party). Frankly, many Utahns who really are Republicans in belief aren't in the party because they aren't proud of its actions. That's what must change."