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Merrill Cook running again, this time for Senate

SALT LAKE CITY — He's back.

Former U.S. Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, a perennial candidate for almost every office imaginable in Utah, is running again, this time for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah. The two served together in Congress, and Cook says he considers Bennett a friend — but one too beholden to special interests.

"If ever there was a time when the Senate of the United States needed Utah's tax-limitation champion, I think it's now," Cook said, referring to himself, at his announcement in Liberty Park.

He said that he chose Liberty Park — despite rain that led many of his supporters to leave before he had finished his half-hour appearance — because of its name, and because it is where he launched several tax-limitation ballot initiatives in the 1990s. "I have been, over the years, Utah's No. 1 tax-limitation activist," he said.

Cook was elected to two terms in the U.S. House as a Republican in 1996 and 1998. But he was rejected by his party in a primary election in 2000.

He has run 12 times for numerous offices since 1984, sometimes as a Republican and sometimes as an independent or third-party candidate.

His 10 unsuccessful races included three for the 2nd District House seat he once held, two for governor, and one each for the 3rd District House seat, Salt Lake City mayor, Salt Lake County mayor, Salt Lake County commissioner and a Utah Board of Education seat.

Cook said he is not embarrassed by running so much and is proud of trying to improve the government. "Giving up: that's what's unforgiveable, and I'm not going to give up," he said.

Cook had indicated recently to the Deseret News and party activists that he was looking at running for his old House seat again this year against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. But Cook said he changed his mind because people urged him by a 10-1 margin to instead take on Bennett. "I have my ear to the people," he said.

One of the other GOP candidates in the Senate race, Cherilyn Eagar, quickly cried foul about Cook's entry. She said that just four days ago, when Cook assured her that he was not interested in running for the Senate, she shared "confidential and strategic info" she said is critical to her race as she sought his help.

"I'm terribly saddened and disappointed by the lack of integrity displayed by Merrill Cook," she said in a news release. "I have now learned the lesson that voters in his district already know: Merrill Cook cannot be trusted."

Cook denies telling Eagar that he was not running for the Senate and says she never shared any proprietary information with him.

But Cook said during his announcement speech, "Ninety percent of the people of Utah know Merrill Cook. You know I will fight for lower taxes. You know I will fight for smaller government. You know that I will fight to audit and reform the Federal Reserve. I think you know I will work hard to revitalize American industry."

He pledged that if he wins, he will serve only one six-year term. He said that would free him from any need to seek money from special interests to fund a re-election. He said Bennett has taken too much money from special interests and is too beholden to them.

"I'm one Republican that's proud to stand up for ordinary working people who have to go out and make pay and can't rely on deals and contracts and special lobbyists … and closed-door meetings. In fact, I probably should have held a few of those closed-door meetings. Maybe I would still be in Washington," he said.

Cook said other issues he will push as a candidate include opposing illegal immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens; fighting gun control; opposing same-sex marriage; and fighting abortion.

He noted that with his father, he cofounded Cook Slurry, a manufacturer of explosives. He said serving as its president and chief executive officer for 25 years taught him how to meet a payroll "and stand up against government encroachment."

Meanwhile, Bennett also has reason to be surprised at Cook. At Bennett's recent campaign kickoff. Cook attended and greeted Bennett. And as Bennett entered that event with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Cook ran up from the crowd to shake Gingrich's hand in a bit of an awkward moment when Bennett was trying to share the spotlight by himself with Gingrich.

Cook is entering the race just a month before party caucuses that will select delegates to the state GOP convention. If any candidate manages to win 60 percent of delegate votes at the convention in June, they proceed to the general election; otherwise, the top two will face off in a primary election.

Besides Cook, Bennett and Eagar, others running for the GOP nomination include attorney Mike Lee and entrepreneur Tim Bridgewater.

Democrats in the race include food-business owner Sam Granato and college professor Christopher Stout.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com