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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended July 02, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 28Jun00

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 case.

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.


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