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Utah GOP could revamp state caucus system at convention


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SANDY — The Utah Republican Party could be on the verge of making a significant change to the way candidates are selected.

Utah Republicans will select a new state party leader at their annual organizing convention Saturday. They will also consider revamping the way they nominate party candidates.

Republican state conventions typically host hundreds of delegates who are ultra-tuned in to the political process. This year, a new idea being considered and would increase participation to include a wider range of people who identify as Republican in Utah.

That idea involves changing the way candidates are selected — the caucus convention system. Neighborhood caucus meetings select delegates and then delegates vote on candidates. Only then does the general public get involved through either the primary or general election.

Proposed changes would make a primary election more likely, thereby increasing voter participation in selecting candidates.

"I want a caucus convention system that allows different kinds of people to come together so it's representative of the Republican population." said Thomas Wright, outgoing chairman of the Utah Republican Party.

Wright said involving more people will strengthen the party and on Saturday, he's calling on delegates to vote on several ideas aimed at widening participation. But not everyone in the party wants more people involved in picking candidates. A past central committee meeting shows how some feel.

"The more we increase participation, the more uninformed electorate we have," David Pyne, Salt Lake County Central Committee member, said in a past meeting. "That's true, whether it's caucus night or at the polls, which is why I don't think increased turnout is a good thing."

However, even more delegates are concerned that moving to a direct primary could affect the quality of candidates.

"The purpose of the party is to obviously put forward our best candidates, not necessarily our richest candidates." said Fred Cox, Republican Central Committee member. "More primaries will encourage more money."

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Saturday morning will kick off with a farewell speech from Wright, who announced in March that he would not seek re-election so he can spend time with his family and focus on his day job.

Another of Saturday's headline events will be an afternoon speech from Mia Love, the 37-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs and daughter of Haitian immigrants. Love has not officially announced whether she will seek a rematch in 2014, but she has filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and has said she is "seriously looking" at another run.

Love's spokeswoman, Alisia Essig, declined to comment on whether Love might officially announce another run for Congress during Saturday's speech.

Utah's Democratic Party, which also uses a caucus system, will consider measures at its annual meeting June 22 to abandon that system altogether and have candidates for the party's nominee compete directly in a primary election.

Contributing: Michelle L. Price, Associated Press

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Richard Piatt

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