Utah tea party co-founder David Kirkham says he is seriously considering challenging Gov. Gary Herbert for the Republican nomination next year.
But Kirkham, a businessman who builds custom-made roadsters, is still considering running against U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, as he has been for several weeks.
"I am thinking about, and I am very, very seriously considering it and I'm having meetings and talking to people and looking at the lay of the land," Kirkham said of a Herbert challenge.
Next week, Kirkham will announce plans to travel the state in a series of "debt commission" meetings hosted by the Washington, D.C.,-based group Freedomworks, and he said he will listen carefully to the message from those gatherings.
If he gets into the gubernatorial race, Kirkham could become the first Republican challenger to Herbert, and could run a strong race, based on his support among the tea party and conservative Republicans who tend to make up the state delegate base.
"I think Gary Herbert is very weak politically. I think he has made some bad decisions and we need strong leadership in the state. We need the state to lead, we really do, and I don't see that happening," Kirkham said. "I'm not happy with the leadership, a lot of the people aren't happy with the leadership in the state."
But, Kirkham said, the same could be said of Hatch. Both have done good things, and bad, he said.
Last March, at the end of the legislative session, Kirkham was very critical of Herbert, and vowed that the tea party would recruit someone to run against the governor. The frustration was in response to Herbert signing a bill to create a one-of-a-kind guest-worker permit for undocumented immigrants and another rolling back Utah's open-records law. The latter was later repealed.
But after U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz opted not to challenge Hatch for the Senate, Kirkham said several people especially his wife began urging him to run against Hatch, and he began considering it.
On the other side, he said friends and state legislators about three senators and five representatives have encouraged him to run for governor. And he has been lobbied by others with a keen interest in the race.
"Herbert's people have asked me to run against Hatch and Hatch's people have asked me to run against Herbert," he said.
Quin Monson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said there are a lot of questions about whether Kirkham can raise the money, master the issues and be disciplined as a candidate to put up a fight against Herbert.
"It comes down to the convention for [Kirkham]," Monson said. "Once Herbert comes out of the convention into a primary, I don't think Kirkham can beat him unless he's got individual wealth he's going to pump into this race."
Monson said Kirkham's presence could also force Herbert to run to take conservative stances that might haunt him if a Democrat like U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson gets into the race.
Still, his business experience and support in conservative circles would be assets, Monson said.
"I think that visibility makes him instantly credible in a way that ought to concern Governor Herbert," Monson said.
The governor's spokes-woman, Ally Isom, said he is focusing on the job of running the state.
"The governor is going to stay focused on his priorities: jobs, economic development, education and energy. That's where his focus is right now," she said.
Kirkham launched Kirkham Motorworks 17 years ago, building custom-made roadsters out of an abandoned jet airplane factory in Poland.
In late 2008, frustrated with spending and bailouts coming out of Washington, he helped organize the Utah tea party and has been a prominent spokesman for the group in state and national media.
It would be tough to leave his business if he campaigns for either office, Kirkham said, but at this point his brother can manage it, and he almost feels compelled to run.
David Montero contributed to this report.