Anticipation is high among Utah County Republicans as they prepare for a nominating convention Saturday that features a heated sheriff's race and contests for eight other nominations.
Utah County Sheriff Dave Bateman faces not only challengers Doug Witney and Richard Mack but also the loss of support among a majority of his deputies and the perception that he has been in office too long.While that race seems to be on nearly everyone's mind, the battle between Utah County Commissioner David J. Gardner and Hans Verlan Andersen Jr. also figures to provide some fireworks.
"Both of those (races) have a lot of interest," said Steve White, chairman of the nominating convention.
Approximately 1,100 delegates are expected to vote for candidates in five contested races for Utah House seats, one state Senate post, two Utah County Commission seats and sheriff. Delegates also will hear from Gov. Mike Leavitt, Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, as well as Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
Organizers aren't planning a lot of razzle-dazzle for the affair, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at Orem High School. They expect the candidates themselves to provide the show.
"I'm just trying to keep it simple," White said. "We're there to elect people and that's my goal."
Nevertheless, White expects the unexpected. At least one candidate has commissioned opinion surveys of delegates to determine where he stands, but some delegates have tried to throw a wrench into the plan.
"I think there will be some surprises Saturday on all fronts because it's a favorite tactic of delegates to lie (to pollsters)," White said.
Hatch is the convention's keynote speaker, and he will be introduced by Leavitt. Bennett and Cannon will give short speeches, as will their respective opponents in the Republican primary, although the delegates won't vote on those races.
The 26 Utah County candidates were notified by letter last week that there won't be multiple balloting, as many of them had expected. A provision for multiple ballots at the convention was mistakenly left out of the party's bylaws, White said. Thus candidates hoping to avoid a primary election must get at least 60 percent of the delegate votes Saturday.
Besides Bateman and Gardner, other incumbents facing challenges are Utah County Commissioner Jerry Grover and state Reps. Lowell A. Nelson of Highland, Tammy Rowan of Orem, J. Brent Haymond of Springville and Glenn Way of Spanish Fork.
But the most high-profile and bitterly contested race is for sheriff. Witney, an investigator with the Utah County Attorney's office, outdistanced Bateman in a recent poll of Utah County deputy sheriffs. Mack, former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., who led a national fight against the Brady gun law, is viewed by opponents as an astute politician who has strong support among the right-wing elements of the party.
Mack also has drawn the ire of deputy sheriffs by saying that they should not be involved in the campaign. Members of the Utah County Deputies Association, however, defend their rights as voters and delegates.
"The deputies association came out in support of (Witney)," said Jim Tracy. "We didn't necessarily come out against another candidate."
Individual deputies did, however, conduct a background check on Mack during their off-hours. The check, which they say was actually started at Mack's request, involved sending one investigator to Arizona to interview people Mack associated with while sheriff.
Deputies say the research they have done and the opinions they express are their own, not those of the sheriff's office or deputies association.
Meanwhile, Andersen and Gardner have both been known to be very outspoken about their particular views. Andersen is a conservative talk-show host who unsuccessfully ran for Orem mayor on two occasions. He has long opposed government helping businesses through subsidies and tax breaks.
Gardner is a licensed psychotherapist who dabbles in martial arts and collects weapons. He is serving his first term on the commission.