Summarized by Kent Larsen
Controversial LDS Congressman Merrill Cook Loses Primary
Salt Lake Tribune 28Jun00 N2
By Dan Harrie and Jim Woolf: Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Controversial two-term LDS Congressman Merrill Cook
was defeated in yesterday's Utah primary, losing his bid to represent the
Republicans in the US Congress for a third term. Cook lost to political
newcomer and LDS Church member Derek Smith, an Internet entrepreneur. Smith
will face a tough challenge from well-connected Democrat Jim Matheson, also
an LDS Church member, which could become more difficult if Cook tries an
independent run for his seat in the US Congress as he hinted at following
his concession speech last night.
Cook has faced multiple challenges in his bid to keep his seat. His
reputation was sullied following his successful 1998 election, during which
he managed to get banished from Utah Republican Party headquarters for a
profanity-laden tirade. Immediately after the campaign his fired chief of
staff Janet Jenson 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." More recently, a jury ruled that Cook 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
Both Utah and national politicians lost faith in Cook's ability to keep the
seat, with fellow Utah Republican Congressman Chris Cannon vocally backing
Smith instead of Cook while other Utah Republicans remained neutral in the
race. Cook did get some support from National Republicans, who worried that
Cook's loss would mean the loss of the seat to the Democrats, when the
Republicans hold just a six-seat majority in the US House of Representatives.
Following his concession speech last night at 9:55 pm local time, Cook
became increasingly bitter in news media interviews, eventually hinting that
he might launch an independent bid for his seat. "What this town needs is a
good independent Republican party that stands up for people, " Cook said. "I
already founded one [Independent Party]. Do we need to dust that off?"
Cook is a millionaire mining explosives company owner and has a history of
running as an independent when unable to get the Republican nomination. Cook
left the Republicans to run against Republican Norm Bangerter for Governor,
and has also run for Congress before as an independent. He has also run
unsuccessfully for school board, county commissioner, and mayor.
During the campaign, Smith's reputation was also under attack, as legal and
tax questions connected with a pas business surfaced and were widely covered
in news reports. Cook denied spreading the reports, but took advantage of
them to attack Smith in campaign ads and appearances. Their rivalry even
disintegrated into a half-hour long shouting match outside a radio station
where they had both appeared in a debate. The rancor even led USA Today to
call the competition "probably the nastiest Republican primary in America."
Meanwhile, Matheson, son of former Utah Governor Scott Matheson, has been
gaining support. Recent polls showed him ahead of both Smith and Cook. In
the other major Utah primaries, Governor Mike Leavitt easily beat challenger
Glen P. Davis for the Republican nomination for Governor. Leavitt will face
Democrat Bill Orton in the November elections. The other Utah Congressmen,
Jim Hansen and Chris Cannon were unopposed in their primaries, as was Utah
Senator Orrin Hatch.