Summarized by Kent Larsen
Cook Struggles To Get On Ballot
(Utah Incumbent Seeks Name on Ballot)
Associated Press 28Apr00 N2
By Robert Gehrke: Associated Press Writer
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Two-term Utah Congressman Merrill Cook is
strugling to get on the November ballot because of his damaged image
and two multimillionaire challengers. And, even if the LDS Church
member can best both challengers in the Republican primary, he is still
behind the Democrat in the race, rasing fears among National
Republicans that they will loose the seat, and possibly the House.
Nationally, republicans have just a six-seat majority in the U.S. House
of Representatives, leading Majority Leader Dick Armey to tell Cook
supporters, "I want him back and I treasure him as a colleague. He's
taken a lot of guff ... and I think it's time we stand up and thank him
for what he has done. Thanks Merrill. I love you, man." Armey says
Cook's district is one of the Democrats' top three targeted races.
But the two Republicans challenging Cook aren't impressed by Armey's
remarks, "No amount of support from the national party solves the
problem of an incumbent that can't beat the Democrat in the fall," said
Derek Smith, 35, a computer company founder who is one of the
challengers. Even GOP colleague Chris Cannon suggested that voters
should look at the challengers, Smith or 28-year-old Jeff Wright, a
venture capitalist. "Merrill has had some very public problems. It's so
ugly I don't think he can be elected," Cannon said Wednesday.
Cook's history in elections hasn't been a very successful one. He has
run unsuccessfully for school board, county commissioner, mayor,
governor (twice) and Congress before winning his seat in 1996. One of
his races for governor came when he left the GOP to challenge popular
Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter. He won his seat in 1996 following
incumbent Enid Greene's fund-raising scandal.
Last election, in 1998, Cook had trouble defeating school teacher Lily
Eskelsen and managed to get banished from Utah Republican Party
headquarters for a profanity-laden tirade, and then fired chief of
staff Janet Jenson. Jenson then publically accused Cook of being
delusional, "Merrill has taken up permanent residence in whacko land,"
she wrote in an office e-mail. "If he asks you to fax his underwear to
the Speaker's office, please just do it."
While Cook acknowledges some trouble, he says he is "an incumbent with
a solid record who gets back up when he gets knocked down." "Have I put
my foot in my mouth? Have I made some mistakes? Of course. But all
these exaggerated stories ... are just fairy tales," Cook said.
But his troubles haven't quite ended. A jury ruled earlier this month
that he had failed to pay $175,000 to the campaign manager for his 1996
campaign. The judgement means Cook may also need to pay up to $500,000
in attorneys fees for the three-year-long court case.
Washington pundit Stuart Rothenberg, who edits The Rothenberg Political
Report says Cook is one of 11 incumbents out of about 400 who could
lose this fall. Because Cook looked so likely to fail, the GOP started
looking for an alternative, talking with six potential candidates
before Wright and Smith decided to try. But none of the three seem
likely to win the 60 percent of delegates at the state party convention
necessary for the nomination, leaving the party with a June primary for
Meanwhile, LDS Church member Jim Matheson, a Democrat, is waiting for
an opponent and building a war chest, "My campaign, in terms of what
we're going to do, isn't going to be altered by the candidate who comes
out on the other side," said Matheson, son of the late Gov. Scott
Matheson. "This is definitely a winnable race for me."