Some gubernatorial candidates are complaining that Weber County Republicans will be picking their state delegates in their county convention — not in the upcoming mass meetings like the rest of the state.

Weber County's bifurcated delegate selection process is both confusing and could help the home boys — GOP candidates Marty Stephens and Nolan Karras, who hail from Weber County — other candidates complain.

"Here we are with 10 days before the neighborhood caucuses, we have people who support Jon," said Jason Chaffetz, spokesman for GOP candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., "but we don't know whether to tell them to go to the mass meetings or wait until the Weber County convention."

The confusion arises because Weber County GOP officials were considering changing their system to pick state and county delegates in the mass meetings. But the old system — picking state delegates in the county convention — will rule this year.

Weber County GOP chairman Craig Dearden could not be reached for comment. Vice Chairwoman Verda Rost confirmed that in the past Weber County state GOP delegates have been picked in the county convention, and to do so again would be following precedent.

She declined to say if the rule was changed by party leaders, referring that question to Dearden.

But Karras, who has followed the Weber County issue, said it's his understanding that state delegates will be picked in the county convention, as they have for 30 years.

By state law, mass meetings will be held March 23 this year.

The State Republican Party allocates state delegates to counties, who themselves decide how the delegates are selected, based on population and how Republican-voting the county is. So the state party doesn't make the call here, said Chris Bleak, state GOP executive director.

"We've heard people complaining" that picking state delegates in the Weber County Convention "will help Marty and me," said Karras, contacted in Washington County, where he was attending meetings of the state Board of Regents, which he chairs. "But I don't know if that's true. You've got me, Marty, (and fellow GOP candidate) Jim Hansen from up here." Former U.S. Congressman Hansen is from Davis County.

"And Olene (current Gov. Olene Walker) was raised up here," said Karras. With four candidates from northern Utah, "maybe you're talking a swing of one or two state delegates. This process is so dynamic, this issue isn't worth breaking a pick over," Karras said, adding neither he nor his campaign staff tried to sway Weber County GOP leaders over how state delegates are picked.

"I always thought it weird that Weber County is the only county in the state that doesn't pick state delegates" in neighborhood caucuses, he said. But Karras said he didn't object when it was suggested Weber County change to mirror the rest of the state by picking state delegates in mass meetings and didn't care if they picked state delegates in the county convention.

But Chaffetz said with 249 state delegates — the fourth-highest number of the 29 counties — how Weber County picks its GOP delegates is important.

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"We're talking about 7 percent of all the state delegates" coming from Weber County. "It can make a difference" in a close, multi-candidate GOP race, Chaffetz said.

"Picking the delegates in the county convention helps those campaigns that are not as organized. We've been organizing for the mass meetings for seven months. The way Weber County is doing it helps the late-comers," he said.

Under that thinking, Walker could benefit. The governor announced a week ago she's in the 2004 race. She added she knows she starts behind other GOP candidates, some of whom have been running for a year. And she said she'll count on "a lot of volunteers" to help her get state delegates to the May 8 state GOP convention.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com

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