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Sent on Mormon-News: 28Jun01

By Kent Larsen

Cook Already Planning Return to Congress

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Merrill Cook, who lost his seat representing Utah's 2nd congressional district to Democrat Jim Matheson last Fall, is already planning a comeback, hoping to win back the seat in 2002. But while he thinks he is the best candidate to oppose Matheson, other candidates disagree, noting that Cook has strong negative perceptions among many voters.

Cook is very much the maverick among Utah Republicans, and is known for leaving the Republican Party to start independent efforts. He first left in the late 1980s, running as an independent for Governor against Republican Norm Bangerter and eventually running as an independent and loosing to Enid Green Waldholz in 1994. When her political life fell apart, Cook rejoined the party and took her seat in 1996.

However, just two years later, following his re-election, Cook had troubles of his own as a profanity-laden tirade led to his banishment from the Utah Republican Party headquarters and his fired campaign manager accused him of being delusional and wrote in an email to the staff, "Merrill has taken up permanent residence in whacko land. If he asks you to fax his underwear to the Speaker's office, please just do it."

These very public revelations led the state's Republican voters denying Cook the nomination for his seat last year. The resulting election pitted LDS millionaire Derek Smith against Democrat Jim Matheson, son of popular Utah Governor Scott Matheson, who eventually won the race.

Now Cook is seeking support for an attempt to get the seat back. He recently returned from Washington DC where he checked the reaction of political insiders to his candidacy. And Cook claims that the trip was a success, "I really believe the Republican leaders of the Congress believe I would have the best chance of beating Matheson," Cook told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I've got the fire in the belly."

But Winston Wilkinson, who is also seeking the Republican nomination for the seat, disagrees, "I'm not sure Merrill is getting the response he wants from Washington and other places," Wilkinson was quoted in the Tribune. "I'm not sure what drives Merrill. His [public opinion poll] negatives are so high." Wilkinson, an African-American who worked in both the Reagan and Bush administrations, says he will get the nomination, and he plans to quit his job raising funds for BYU's law school and start campaigning full time on September 30th.

But local Republican leaders have doubts about both men. Greg Hawkins, who is seeking the chairmanship of the Utah Republican Party, says "We haven't really found a candidate yet that would be viable against Matheson." But he admits that he considers Cook the stronger candidate. State Repubican Director Scott Parker adds that other candidates may be waiting until after the State Legislature redraws the district boundaries based on the 2000 US Census before deciding whether or not to run. He says Wilkinson is a credible candidate, one that "everybody likes."

But Democratic state Director Todd Taylor cautions that Cook should not be underestimated, "Merrill is a very tough campaigner." But Taylor believes the negative perceptions of Cook among the public are too strong for him to win. "He is going to lack some support from his typical troops," said Taylor, adding, "clearly, it is time for him to join Politicians Anonymous."


Cook Eyes Possibility of Regaining 2nd Congressional District Seat
Salt Lake Tribune 26Jun01 T2
By Dan Harrie: Salt Lake Tribune


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