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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert touted the merits of the state's longtime caucus-convention system for nominating candidates and said Thursday the "civil war" within GOP ranks triggered by a law overhauling the system is unhealthy and needs to be resolved.
Herbert, a Republican, said at his monthly televised news conference on KUED-TV that the caucus and convention system of neighborhood meetings and appearances before delegates is probably the reason he became governor in 2009.
"It allowed me to compete with people who had a lot more money and a lot more name recognition," Herbert said. "You can compete in a field of ideas."
The new system, which took effect this year, allows candidates to avoid the party's caucus and convention system and instead compete in a primary election.
"The concern for many of us is does that mean that only the rich and famous will be able to compete?" Herbert said.
It isn't the first time Herbert has shown his support for the old system. He has also said he believes the law he signed to create the new system is constitutional.
The state Republican Party has sued to overturn that law. If that fails, party officials are considering requiring any Republicans who forgo the convention system to sit for an interview and disclose where they stand on the party's platform. They have also floated the idea of making candidates pay a fee to be on a ballot as a Republican.
Herbert says he has no problem with vetting candidates. But he doesn't support a fee.
He stopped short of endorsing James Evans to continue as party chair, saying only that he recognizes Evans has been in charge during a difficult time. Herbert said he's open to talk with anybody considering running for the post and would possibly endorse a candidate at a later date.
Herbert said he's uncomfortable with a fight among Republicans that has become an increasingly public dispute, with GOP officials quarreling on the radio and some Republicans questioning party leadership.
"This kind of civil war that is going on in the Republican ranks is probably not healthy," Herbert said. "We need to come together and resolve these differences."
The new law was a compromise the Republican-dominated Legislature struck in 2014 with Count My Vote, a group comprised of mostly moderate, well-funded Republicans who sought the change.
Backers of Count My Vote, including former Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt, have been pushing for changes since 2010, when three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted at the GOP convention amid the rising tea party movement.
Count My Vote argues it's difficult for many people to participate in the caucus and convention system, with its requirement of attending meetings in person. The group says that results in more extreme political positions or candidates without broad support.
Defenders of the caucus system argue it allows for local scrutiny of candidates and enables those without deep pockets to run for office.
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.
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