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BANGERTER COMES CLOSE TO ENDORSING LEAVITT

GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter has not endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Leavitt, but he came pretty close to it last week in a Palm Springs fund-raiser for Leavitt, and rumors of such an endorsement are circulating in Salt Lake City.

Leavitt and Bangerter are friends, with Leavitt - a former GOP campaign consultant - helping Bangerter in several campaigns and Bangerter appointing Leavitt to the elite Board of Regents, which oversees the state's colleges and universities.On March 2, Leavitt supporters and local business leaders Joe Rosenblatt and Ken Garff hosted a meet-the-candidate affair for Leavitt at a Palm Springs country club.

"It was held out of state, but all those attending - about 120 people - are Utahns. They just spend some time in the winter in Palm Springs," said LaVarr Webb, executive director of Leavitt's campaign.

Rosenblatt and Garff learned that Bangerter was spending time at his St. George house and invited the governor over to Palm Springs, Calif., for a day of golf and the fund-raiser.

"The golf was rained out, but the governor did attend the dinner. He didn't endorse Mike. He said something like: `As an incumbent governor, I must remain neutral. But it would sure be nice if your friend (Leavitt) wins,' " Webb said.

Webb said the fund-raiser was not the kind at which large sums of money are charged per plate, raising a lot of cash the night of the event. Rather, it was a chance for some "well-to-do" people to meet a candidate and get to know him. Later, a follow-up letter soliciting funds will be sent to those who attended, Webb said.

"We consider it a success. It really wasn't our idea to hold an event out of the state. Joe and Ken sponsored it. All who came are Utahns who are naturally interested in who the next governor will be," said Webb.

Bangerter was in St. George Tuesday and unavailable for comment.