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2nd District race full of intrigue, conspiracy theories
Politics » Stewart, Utah GOP convention rivals deny claims as the party launches a probe.

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After Hanks finished third on the first round of balloting with 121 votes the fear among the other campaigns was that he would drop out, throw his support to Stewart and give him the nomination.

At a glance

GOP Begins Inquiry

Candidates and campaign staff in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District race were summoned to the state Republican Party headquarters Wednesday, as the party chairman began his investigation into events surrounding the implosion at the party convention Saturday.

“I don’t view it as a criminal investigation. This is just the delegates asking me as their chairman to help sort out the facts,” said Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright.

Candidate Cherilyn Eagar said she will meet with the party on Thursday and hopes for a fair, thorough investigation. But if the party has a conflict of interest, since Stewart is the nominee, an independent investigation may be necessary.

But Wright said he has no horse in the race and his only interest is getting delegates objective information about what transpired.

“I have made a commitment to the delegates to release to them the facts that I find,” he said. “I have no fear about releasing those. I will be honest with them and forthcoming in what I find.”

Wright said he isn’t sure how long it will take to gather information, but he won’t release anything unless he’s sure it’s accurate.

Quin Monson, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, said it might benefit Wright to get to the bottom of what happened before Democrats do, especially if there was something embarrassing.

“In that sense there is every incentive for Thomas Wright to be an honest broker here,” Monson said.

— Robert Gehrke

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Charges and counters » In a bizarre sequence of events, Eagar offered a rambling defense to Hanks’ charges before her time expired. Williams took to the microphone and called Stewart a "bold-faced liar" before being cut off. When his mic was turned back on, he dropped out of the race and threw his support to Clark.

Eagar returned to the mic and withdrew as well, as did Wallack, trying to force Stewart into a primary with Clark.

But in the end, Stewart clinched the 2nd District nomination by 13 votes.

"They all got up and did exactly what I said they were going to do," Hanks said in an interview this week. "If you were trying to plead innocent to a plot and there really was a plot I was involved in, I would have gone into that little huddle and said, ‘Good luck, Dave. You’re on your own.’"

Clark insists there was never any conspiracy. The candidates had asked for each others’ support, but that is part of the process, he says. Indeed, ousted candidates endorsed survivors in every race Saturday.

"To have an individual get up and bold-faced lie about our participation in this and never really have an opportunity to [recover] from that is politics at its seediest," Clark said.

Wallack said that Hanks was "a plant that was put into the race to put forth false accusations."

Eagar said Hanks’ claims are "totally false. ... The most important thing right now is we want to make sure our names are cleared in this."

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She said that, in addition to the party’s inquiry, the Federal Election Commission needs to find out who sent the letter to delegates, since anonymous mailings violate campaign finance law.

Hanks says the other campaigns are simply upset because they lost.

"People who lose are like people whose children lose a little league game: The other team cheated and the officials made bad calls because they didn’t win on the field," Hanks said. "I’m just telling you: There was no collusion and I wasn’t a plant."

Hanks acknowledges he is a close friend with Connie Smith, the chairwoman of the Juab County Republican Party who worked hard on Stewart’s campaign. Hanks said Smith encouraged him to run for office — for the 4th Congressional District seat or the county commission — but when Hanks hesitated, she went to work as a volunteer for Stewart.

"It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?" Stewart said of the claim Hanks was a plant. "If someone is going to make accusations against our campaign they should have some evidence and there just isn’t any."

Stewart said his campaign is trying to put the conflict behind it and focus on winning the election in November against Democrat Jay Seegmiller, a former state lawmaker.

"Any time politics gets down in the mud, it’s bad for everyone," Stewart said. "No one benefits when someone gets down in a very personal, negative process."


Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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