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COOK CAMP COULD AFFECT GOP PRIMARY

Where are those independent Merrill Cook voters going to be Tuesday?

GOP gubernatorial candidate Richard Eyre would like to know. He's worried about it. Eyre says he needs them in order to win. But his fellow GOP contender, Mike Leavitt, isn't as concerned."I'll get my fair share of those (voters) as well," says Leavitt.

"I believe those Cook voters hold the balance of power in this (GOP governor's) primary," says Eyre, who trails Leavitt in fund raising and in the polls.

"I figure there may be 200,000 Utahns who may vote for Cook (in the final election)," says Eyre. "I want them to vote in the Republican primary, because if they do, I figure I'll get most of them. I need 20,000 (Cook voters). If they stay home, choose to sit out the primary, we're in a lot of trouble."

Eyre has targeted a special radio advertisement to these "independent conservatives." "We think some will come out to vote for Jim Bartleson (in the GOP 2nd Congressional District race) and Bill Barton (in the GOP Salt Lake County Commission race). We want them."

Cook reiterated Friday what he's been saying for some time - he won't endorse anyone in the Republican and Democrat gubernatorial primaries and won't suggest to his supporters whom to vote for Tuesday.

Leavitt says he isn't overconfident about Tuesday's primary. But he's confident enough that he spent part of last week meeting with aides to develop strategy for the final election.

Leavitt says regardless of what Eyre says these final days, he's just going about his own agenda: "I'm talking about reforming education and creating good jobs that people can raise a family on."

Eyre says a new issue emerged last week - Leavitt's campaign contributions and spending. The latest campaign filings show that Leavitt has raised nearly twice as much money as Eyre. "And he's raised it in large sums, $10,000 and $20,000," says Eyre. "The question I have, and I raise this with no malice, is whether Mike can be independent from the special interests, the lobbyists and others, who are so powerful in the current establishment. He sought their money, their endorsements. Will Mike fight for campaign reform, term limitation, reporting of gifts, all those things?"

Leavitt said it's an old axiom in politics that if you can't get good endorsements, you criticize them. "If you can't raise the money, you criticize the one who can. Richard has tried to draw me into this debate from the first day of the race. I'm glad people like (U.S. Sen.) Jake Garn, (Gov.) Norm Bangerter and (former Education Secretary) T.H. Bell have trust in me, endorse me. I'm glad people trust me so much they contribute."

Besides trying to get Cook supporters to the GOP primary, Eyre said he's also trying to counter "unjustified criticism" of his public education voucher system "by Mike and especially by the Utah Education Association."

Eyre said he supports a pilot voucher system for public schools - "something that two-thirds of the Legislature already supports." President Bush supports a voucher system for public and private schools - where parents shop around for the school they want their children to attend - while Eyre says only public schools should be tried now.