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LAYTON -- Utah Republicans met for their annual state convention Saturday and said they're ready to win in 2010.
New party leadership was the first order of business as the convention got under way at the Davis Convention Center in Layton. Delegates from across the state elected Dave Hansen as chairman and Morgan Philpot as co-chair.
Hansen won the top post with more than 51 percent of nearly 1,800 votes cast. He beat Steve Harmsen and Brian Jenkins.
Hansen replaces Stan Lockhart, who announced in January that he would not seek a second term.
Hansen says he plans to make some improvements to the state party, including making sure its core values are clear to the public and giving as much assistance as possible to party organizations in each of the state's 29 counties.
Hansen is a former political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and former executive director of the Utah Republican Party and Montana Republican Party.
The leadership change is coming at an important time for the party. Hansen said, "There're tremendous challenges that Utah Republicans face. There're tremendous opportunities, too. We Republicans in Utah generally do better when Washington is in control of the Democrats."
Anticipating the 2010 election, there is simmering discontent among delegates. Federal bailout and stimulus money, growing debt, and social issues all are fueling fear that the nation is heading the wrong way.
Larry Meyers, a delegate from Washington County, said, "They're taking us toward a socialistic government, controlled economy. On social issues, they're going away from the traditional values Republicans stand for."
For 18-year veteran Senator Bob Bennett, it's translating into a fight to keep his job. Right now, there are three main contenders.
One of them, Mark Shurtleff, said, "That is a great concern about the direction America's taking, with all the power going to the federal government."
Another contender, Tim Bridgewater, said, "Change is a good thing. It's time to bring new blood in, a younger generation of representatives."
Cherilyn Eagar is also a candidate for Senate. She said, "We need to be representatives of our conservative values in the Senate, and we are not right now."
Sen. Bennett said, "At this time, when there's so much uncertainty in the economy, it's inevitable that some folks will come out and say things are a mess and ‘I can do just as well as people who are there.'"
Bennett says he's confident, but acknowledges he is facing a challenge.
Connie Smith, a delegate from Springville, said, "We own the office. They don't own the office. I feel we have a voice and this is how we use it."
Utah Republicans will remain a political force to be reckoned with over the next year or so. The question is what kinds of changes may be coming at the same time. Everyone at the convention Saturday seemed to agree that this will be a very interesting political year.
Soon-to-be Governor Gary Herbert also was at the convention. He says he is concentrating on getting ready for the job but still planning for his own election.
Story compiled with information from Richard Piatt and The Associated Press.