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SANDY — Several thousand Republicans convened in Sandy where James Evans was selected as the new leader of the Utah Republican Party at the annual organizing convention.
Delegates at Saturday's daylong event chose from three candidates vying to replace the outgoing chairman and consider proposals to adjust the party's process for nominating candidates. Evans was the nominee elected to replace Thomas Wright as the Utah Republican party chairman.
One of the day's headline events is an afternoon speech from Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson last year.
Matheson narrowly won a sixth term in Congress in November and represents one of the country's most heavily GOP districts.
Had Love won the election, she would have become the first black, female Republican elected to Congress.
In the afternoon, she officially announced her candidacy.
One of Saturday morning's opening speeches will come from outgoing Chairman Thomas Wright.
Wright, who was elected to the post in 2011, announced in March that he would not seek re-election.
In a statement explaining his decision not to run again, Wright said he wanted to spend more time with his family and focus on his day job as the president of a real estate company.
"This has been one of the greatest honors of my life - and I'm thrilled with what we have accomplished," Wright said in the statement Friday. "We unified the party to nominate exceptional future leaders of Utah - while drastically increasing participation in our election process."
In March 2012, the party announced record turnout at neighborhood caucus meetings.
Wright has been a defender of the caucus and convention system the Utah GOP uses to nominate candidates but supports changes to the system that will increase voter participation.
This has been one of the greatest honors of my life - and I'm thrilled with what we have accomplished.
–Thomas Wright, Republican Party Chairman
Some Utah Republicans have been advocating changes to the system, which they say keeps voter participation low. The group is planning to put a ballot initiative before voters next year allowing candidates who gather enough voter signatures to earn a spot on a primary ballot and bypass the convention nominating system.
Utah is among a handful of states that use a system of local caucus meetings and a nominating convention. Under Utah's system, a candidate can avoid a primary race if they receive 60 percent of the votes from delegates at the conventions. If no candidate reaches the 60 percent threshold, the top two candidates compete in a primary.
That system led to the defeat of former U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett in 2010 when he finished in third place at the state Republican convention. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee won the resulting primary and general election.
At the GOP convention Saturday, delegates will consider proposals to boost the 60 percent threshold to 66.7 percent, or two-thirds, which would force more races to go through a primary.
If the 4,000 delegates at the convention make that change, the group behind the initiative has agreed to abandon the effort, the Deseret News has reported.
Any changes to the GOP system will have a large impact on Utah politics, which Republicans overwhelmingly dominate. According to the most recent Gallup tracking, Utah is the most Republican state in the country.
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: Richard Piatt
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