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Cook, Hawkins set sights higher: 2nd District

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Two leading candidates for chairmanship of the Utah Republican Party have dumped that contest and instead will likely face each other in the 2nd Congressional District GOP race next year.

Merrill Cook and Greg Hawkins are out of the chairmanship race, both men said Thursday.

"I think I have a great shot at winning my old seat," said Cook, who lost his 2nd District seat after two terms in a June 2000 GOP primary. "I'm inclined to do it," Cook said.

Hawkins said he is seriously considering a race for the 2nd District next year and should decide within a month.

Both men want to unseat Democratic freshman Rep. Jim Matheson, whose Salt Lake County district will likely be pushed into rural, GOP-dominated eastern Utah by a legislative redistricting effort this fall.

Hawkins' and Cook's departure sets up Geneva Steel boss Joe Cannon to have the inside track for running the party over the next two years.

"I'm endorsing Joe," said Hawkins, who added he'll end his "outsider" GOP reputation.

"If I (run against Matheson), I'll have to run from inside the party establishment, not outside like I did" a year ago when he challenged longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Hawkins said he'll need "major party help" in running against Matheson and believes he can get it.

But as Hawkins leaves the chairmanship race, his former running mate, Glen Davis, is in. Davis, a Salt Lake businessman, filed for the chairmanship earlier this week, said Scott Parker, GOP state executive director.

Hawkins said he got out and told Cannon he would endorse him before Davis got in. "I already made that commitment," said Hawkins, a local attorney.

Cook said "my heart is with Glen Davis" in the chairmanship race, although he hasn't endorsed anyone in that contest yet. "Glen supported me 12 years ago in our tax (reduction) movement, and he would best support strong Republican values," said Cook, who added that he trusts Cannon "to fairly deal with my unique situation and be fair to all candidates" in a 2nd District race next year.

Davis, a political unknown, shocked the state's Republican establishment last year when he blasted his way into a primary with Gov. Mike Leavitt at the 2000 GOP convention. Davis then picked Hawkins, who lost a close delegate vote to Hatch at the same convention, as his lieutenant governor candidate.

It has long been believed that Cook would drop out of the chairmanship race, although he has steadfastly refused to do so until now. Cook traveled to Washington, D.C., a month ago to visit with national House and Republican Party leaders, returning to say he's seriously considering trying to win back his 2nd Congressional District seat in 2002.

Cook was defeated in the June 2000 GOP primary by political newcomer Derek Smith. Matheson beat Smith in November in one of the most expensive U.S. House races in Utah history.

Cook was upset with some state and national GOP leaders, saying they didn't give him, as the incumbent, the support he deserved.

Joe Cannon is the older brother of Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and is generally believed to have the backing of leading GOP officeholders. Joe Cannon is also a member of the board of directors of the Deseret News.

Davis, a conservative unhappy with some elected Utah Republicans, refused to endorse Leavitt's candidacy last year after being defeated in the primary, instead supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Orton.

Davis met with Leavitt at one point last summer and asked him to sign a lengthy pledge, promising not to raise taxes and to control the growth of state government, among other items. Leavitt refused to sign and lost Davis' endorsement.

As of Thursday, both Cook and Hawkins were still officially in the chairmanship race, not removing their names from the roster, said Parker. The deadline for party office filings is Thursday night, although candidates can drop out up until the convention date. The state GOP organizing convention will be Aug. 25 in the South Towne Expo Center.

Frank Mylar, who ran for attorney general in 2000, has dropped out of the vice chairmanship race. That leaves Candace Daly, Davis County GOP chair; Stefani Stone, an Alan Keyes supporter who is actually endorsed by Keyes; and Frank Guliuzza.

Meanwhile, a dispute over about 50 Salt Lake County state delegates continues. Mike Ridgway and a group of dissatisfied rank-and-file Republicans believe former Salt Lake County GOP leaders improperly selected about 50 "fill in" state delegates a year ago. A number of those individuals, Ridgway believes, could be considered party insiders and, in a close chairmanship race, sway the chairmanship election in August.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com