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
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
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