Utah Republican leaders rarely question that the party will rally behind its nominees. But Utah's two senators say that may be the toughest test Merrill Cook still faces because of his many races outside the party as an independent.
"I believe the party will unite behind him, but there may be some pockets of resistance because of his past independent activities," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah - who said he personally will work to help Cook win.Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - who like Bennett does not personally face re-election this year - said, "I think Republican leaders will line up behind him, because they don't want a liberal representing that district. . . . It will be a tough race, but Merrill is used to that."
Bennett and Hatch predict 2nd District voters will elect Cook because they tend to be more conservative as he is, while newly nominated Democrat Ross Anderson is much more liberal. Hatch even said conservative views may have helped Cook win the primary.
"What did it for him, I think, was his dedication in this race to Republican principles. Once Merrill finally came to the conclusion to support them, I think he found they are pretty good," Hatch said.
Bennett said, "Anderson represents the continuing Democratic trend to align the state party firmly with the most liberal wing of the national party. That hasn't proven effective for them in the past.
"The Democrats in Utah who are successful are those who have kept their distance from the national party and stress Utah ties and values," he said. "Now they have a candidate openly identifying with the national party on such things as abortion, gay rights and other fairly hot-button issues."
While Bennett and Hatch say Cook still faces a tough race, they say newly nominated Chris Cannon faces an even tougher one against incumbent Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah.
"He is dealing with an experienced incumbent who for six years has established himself in the minds of voters as someone who listens and represents the district," Bennett said.
He said that is tough to beat - but Cannon should argue that the district would be better represented by a Republican in a Republican-controlled Congress. Orton has always run before when Democrats controlled the Congress.
Hatch added, "There is a strong line between being a Republican and Democrat in Congress. Orton is very proud of being a Democrat. That is basically a Republican district, so it will be an interesting race."
Bennett added, "Orton has not faced an opponent in the past who has Cannon's experience."