Last-minute allegations of dirty tricks threw Utah’s 2nd Congressional District Republican race into turmoil Saturday evening but businessman Chris Stewart emerged as the party’s nominee over Utah’s ex-House Speaker David Clark even after former rivals lined up behind Clark.
Eureka Mayor Milt Hanks alleged right before delegates began casting ballots that four contenders had conspired to drop negative information about Stewart -- charges that those candidates denied and claimed was foul play by Stewart’s camp.
"Chris Stewart is a bald-faced liar whether you like it or not," candidate Chuck Williams later alleged at the podium, prompting party officials to temporarily cut his microphone. Williams then withdrew and backed Clark.
Up next, Howard Wallack said that Hanks was a Stewart surrogate and throwing out allegations to gin up support for his friend.
"I know of only one campaign that made negative attacks on any candidates," Wallack said. "We have to take a long look at a candidate who never buys a booth, never makes a sign and all of sudden comes out with a vile attack."
In an interview, Wallack said the games have undermined Utah’s caucus system.
"We believe there was a plant that was put into the race to put forth false accusations," Wallack said of Hanks. "I don’t believe the caucus system can continue when [votes] are subject to manipulation like this."
Wallack said he and other candidates pulled out to try to keep Hanks’ comments from giving Stewart the nomination. But Stewart later nabbed more than 60 percent of the vote to take the GOP nod. He will face Democrat Jay Seegmiller in November.
Hanks, who had raised little money in the race, had charged earlier that Clark, Williams, Wallack and Cherilyn Eagar tried to pull him into a plan to hit Stewart with negative attacks. Shortly after, a typewritten, unsigned note emerged tying Stewart the so-called "Temple mailer" that hurt ex-Sen. Bob Bennett two years ago because Stewart’s brother, Tim, was found to be behind the piece. The piece also charged that Stewart embellished his military career.
"Are we back to the hog trough of backroom deals and backstabbing politics?" Hanks said.
Stewart said in an interview that the charges in the circulated note were offensive and degrades the political process. "It’s just not true," he said.
Clark said he wanted to unite people, not divide people, but he also said he was disgusted by the late hit on his and his rivals’ integrity.
"This has just been the opposite of what he alluded to," Clark said of Hanks’ allegations. "I’m offended that the truth was not spoken."
State Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who supports Clark, said he has never seen anything like the ploy that he suspects Hanks and Stewart were part of.
"I smell a rat. I smell a rat a mile away," Hughes said. "It stinks to high heaven."
Delegates later voted to launch an investigation how the allegations came down.
Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.