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Salt Lake Tribune

GOP outcome is no tilt to the right
By Rebecca Walsh
May 11, 2004

Utah Democrats want to believe the right wing of the Republican Party took over this weekend's state convention, booting a popular incumbent governor in favor of two more-conservative candidates.
But they would be mistaken, according to political scientists, pollsters and the candidates themselves.

Two days after Republican delegates sent former U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. and State Board of Regents Chairman Nolan Karras into a June 22 primary and Gov. Olene Walker into the history books, Democratic Party Chairman Donald Dunn and other top party members held a press conference Monday on the Capitol steps in an attempt to boost their own candidates in voters' minds.
"The radical right wing is really in control of things in that party," said State Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. "They got rid of a woman who supports education, a woman who supports the bipartisan workings of state government."
Republican leaders scoffed at the Democrats' spin on the convention.
"Donald Dunn dreams about the radical right wing," said Republican Party Chairman Joe Cannon. "But it's pretty hard to argue Jon Huntsman and Nolan Karras are right-wing extremists. For all the hopes and dreams of Donald Dunn about the freaky, wacko Republican convention, we've got some pretty electable people."
Kelly Patterson, Brigham Young University Political Science Department chairman, agreed.
"They knocked a moderate out of the race," he said. "They did not knock the moderates out of the race."
Pre-convention polls of the 3,500 GOP delegates found that most were men who characterized themselves as very conservative and in favor of tuition tax credits and allowing concealed weapons on college campuses. Still, those delegates nominated two of the more moderate hopefuls in a field of eight gubernatorial candidates.
"I've been called everything from a Democrat to a right-winger in a span of a few months," Huntsman said Monday. "This convention was different than any we've had in recent memory. It was more reflective and more representative of the political leanings of the state. It produced two candidates who are traditional, Reagan Republicans. We defy easy categorization. To call us right-wing radicals is very inadequate."
Karras running mate Enid Greene just laughed at Dunn's summary.
"Nobody labels Nolan Karras an extremist anything," she said.
Some delegates apparently judged candidates by their support of tuition tax credits for private school tuition or a new state law returning the proceeds of property forfeited in criminal cases to law enforcement.
Merit Medical founder Fred Lampropoulos' $2 million investment in the race contributed to his spot in third place. And Huntsman's built-in name recognition caught delegates' attention.
But others waited to hear the candidates' speeches. Before Saturday, pollster Dan Jones found about 15 percent of delegates were undecided. For those delegates, Walker's disjointed, hurried speech probably didn't help her, Jones said. But Greene's self-deprecating joke 
-- "I chose the wrong man once and I'm not about to do it again" about her ex-husband Joe Waldholtz and his role in her illegally financed 1994 campaign for Congress -- charmed the convention audience and might have earned Karras some votes, he said.
While much has been made of Walker's veto of the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship legislation, her late entry in the race and perhaps a hint of baggage from former Gov. Mike Leavitt's two-plus terms in office, and concerns about Walker's age -- at 73, she was the oldest candidate running -- may have played a larger role in her defeat.

"Governor Walker reminds me of my mother," delegate Mark Steele wrote in an e-mail. "I loved and respected my mother and recognized her as an extremely capable and good woman. But when she was in her mid-70s, I wouldn't have selected her to run a state."

In rounds of so-called "instant runoff voting," the most conservative candidates were eliminated first -- Gary Benson, then Provo Sen. Parley Hellewell and so on. Each time, the eliminated candidate's votes were redistributed among conservative candidates, said Patterson.

The moderates -- Walker, Huntsman and Karras -- ended up competing for the same votes.

"It was a case of the moderate wing of the Republican Party only being able to back one candidate throughout," Patterson said. But when Walker was eliminated in the sixth round of counting, votes from her supporters pushed Karras into his final position.
    Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to this story.


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