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Cook wants Bennett's Senate seat

Published February 25, 2010 8:00 pm

Politics » Chronic candidate says senator's too tight with Wall Street.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

He has run for governor twice, pushed for mayoral posts in Utah's most-populous city and county and he served two terms as a U.S. congressman.

Now, Merrill Cook is plotting a new political path that he hopes will lead to the U.S. Senate.

With a fitting campaign slogan, "You know Merrill Cook," the perennial politician announced Thursday that he is challenging Sen. Bob Bennett for the Republican nomination.

Cook argued that the three-term incumbent has become too tight with Wall Street, big banks and other special interests and needs to be replaced. Utah needs an outsider who has been in Washington but is not of Washington.

"Main Street -- that is my focus -- not Wall Street," Cook declared on a drizzly afternoon at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.

Bennett didn't respond directly to Cook's allegations, but released a simple statement saying, "I worked with Merrill while he was a member of the House and I welcome him into the Senate pool."

Cook enters a crowded field of conservatives who are seeking the GOP nomination.

Quin Monson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, doubts Cook's entry will have much impact on Bennett's chances at winning the nomination. Bennett still will have his supporters. The difference is that Cook adds a fifth contender for the non-Bennett voter .

"The task may be more difficult for the non-Bennett crowd," he said. "They will have more clutter to fight through to distinguish themselves."

Cooks enters the race with a long history on the campaign trail that dates to the mid-1980s. His resume includes unsuccessful runs for Salt Lake City mayor, the state school board, governor and Salt Lake County commissioner.

But Cook -- the co-founder of a mining explosives manufacturer known as Cook Slurry Company -- ultimately won a congressional seat and served two terms. During that time, he had a headline-grabbing confrontation with his own party when his obscenity-laden outburst toward the GOP and Bennett got him temporarily banned from the state Republican Party headquarters.

Now, Cook is heading toward another convention with another ambition in mind.

With a pink pig statue beside him and the placard, "Voting for Cook is hazardous to pork spending in Washington," Cook argued that Utah needs him back in the nation's capital to keep a lid on taxation, to shrink the size of government and to jump-start the economy by revitalizing its industrial base.

He declared matter-of-factly that he opposes same-sex marriage, illegal immigration and federal gun control. He pledged to push for an audit of the Federal Reserve. And he promised to serve a single six-year term if elected.

"Stumbles and defeats along the way are inevitable," Cook said, reflecting on his political career. "But giving up, that's what's unforgivable. I'm not going to give up."

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List lengthens

The crowd of Republican rivals for the U.S. Senate seat up for election in Utah this year keeps swelling.

Former Rep. Merrill Cook joins Mike Lee, former general counsel to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.; activist Cherilyn Eagar; former two-time congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater; and small-business owner James Williams.