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Utah delegates finally stand and cheer for Donald Trump

Delegation questioned whether its earlier opposition was an 'embarrassment'

CLEVELAND — After a week of friction over Donald Trump, the Utah delegation at the Republican National Convention stood and even cheered at times for their party's presidential nominee Thursday night.

Gov. Gary Herbert called Trump's acceptance speech "a step in the right direction," and said his fellow Utah Republicans ought to be ready now to set aside their frustrations over Trump.

"I think it can happen. I guess the question is, will it happen? But I think it can and I think it should," the governor, one of Utah's 40 delegates to the convention, said.

Herbert, a close friend of Trump's running mate, the governor of Indiana, told the New York Times he supports the ticket. “I’m going to vote for Mike Pence,” he said, pausing for effect. “And Donald Trump comes along with the package.”

Trump, however, has struggled in the reliably GOP state, holding a less than 10-point lead over the Democrat's presumptive nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in recent polls.

He came in a distant third in last March's state GOP presidential preference caucus with just 14 percent of the vote behind the winner, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

At the time, polls showed Utahns unhappy with Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the country and other controversial stands would vote for a Democrat for president for the first time since 1964.

Stan Lockhart, a former state GOP chairman, said he finally decided he could vote for Trump during Thursday's speech, "when he looked us in the eye and said, 'I'm going to work for you,' and he laid out so many things he would do."

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he decided he was able to endorse Trump several days ago after meeting with the campaign to discuss a number of issues, including the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy expected to be filled by the next president.

"I think that's the focal point of the election. That's the most important issue to me," Reyes said, adding he was taking Trump "at his word" that he was the law and order candidate.

Another Utah delegate, Larry Meyers, of St. George, waved a "Families for Trump" sign while wearing a Trump "Make America Great Again" hat throughout the lengthy speech.

"It's time to beat Hillary Clinton and keep our country safe, secure our borders, enforce our laws. What's not to like about that?" said the former Washington County coordinator for Cruz.

Herbert said Trump needs to "talk about America like we talk about Utah. Frankly, Utah is a good model for states' rights, laboratories of democracy," themes he said will resonate with Republicans around the country.

He said what Utahns want from Trump is "some substantive stuff. Sen. Cruz gave some substantive stuff (Wednesday) night. He didn't quite finish it off at least to the satisfaction of most of the people in the arena."

But Utah's delegation to the convention, who had sat silently throughout many speakers praising Trump Wednesday, cheered on Cruz, who stunned the convention crowd by not even mentioning the nominee in a 20-minute speech.

Cruz, who told Republicans they need to vote their conscience in November, was loudly booed by many other delegations as he left the stage, despite being the runner-up in the GOP presidential primary.

Utah's delegates and their alternates — all committed to Cruz — have been at the center of the contention during the four-day convention over the nomination of Trump.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, helped lead a chaotic but unsuccessful fight on the convention floor Monday to force a protest vote against Trump. A day later, the Utah delegation saw their votes go to Trump because of a state party rule.

Thursday morning, Utah delegates debated whether they've been an embarrassment because of their reluctance to show support for Trump and their efforts on behalf of Cruz.

"We’ve got to figure out whatever we have to do. Whatever pride needs to be swallowed needs to be swallowed tonight," delegate Spencer Stokes said at the group's final breakfast meeting at their hotel in Akron.

Stokes, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to Lee, told the delegation they needed to be "respectful" when Trump accepts the nomination after three days of friction over his nomination, because the state will be in the spotlight.

"There will be a lot of cameras on our section tonight. People can walk out, they can turn around," Stokes said. "Whatever it is, I don't think we should do that. I think we should try to look like we're jelling around a candidate."

But Utah GOP Vice Chairman Phil Wright said at the meeting he was proud of the delegation.

"We haven't done anything in the last three days we should be ashamed of. We stood for principles," Wright said, adding that he "disagrees with anybody who says we've been an embarrassment or that somehow we've said or done something to makes Utah look bad."

He said the Utah GOP will unite around Trump to prevent the Democrat's presumptive Clinton from winning the White House.

But state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said the message to the state's Republicans seems to be that they should vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson instead of Trump in November, and support a run by Cruz in 2020.

Weiler, whose wife is an alternate delegate, said he agrees with the texts and emails he's been receiving "from people who are angry" at how Utah is being represented in Cleveland.

"This is Trump's convention. It's Trump's house and they are invited guests and they're just throwing a fit about Ted Cruz. That is embarrassing," he said. "They've drawn a lot of negative attention."

Former Utah Congresswoman Enid Mickelsen, the chairwoman of the convention's rules committee, said the state Republican Party's reputation has been damaged as a result of what she termed "magical thinking" that another nominee could emerge.

"This is not how you behave on a national stage. I think it reinforced a view (that) the Utah GOP is extreme," she said. Once seen as polite and following the rules, the state's Republicans "are now seen as the antithesis of what we pride ourselves on."

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who along with Herbert was above the convention floor in a suite during Cruz's speech, said he did not blame the Utah delegation for showing its enthusiasm for the Texas senator.

The lieutenant governor said when other delegations turned on Cruz, "it felt like a WWE wrestling match when the hero turns out to be the villain at the end. It was surreal" and shows the divisions within the party.

Trump's acceptance speech will have "the biggest impact on whether or not Utahns can get behind him," Cox said. "People in Utah are really, really looking for a reason not to vote for Hillary Clinton. They're just begging Trump to give them that reason."

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