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Walker Declines to Endorse Candidates

Walker Declines to Endorse Candidates

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Olene Walker, who became the state's first female chief executive when Gov. Mike Leavitt resigned to take a position in the Bush cabinet, said she supports Republicans but won't endorse their gubernatorial candidate, Jon Huntsman Jr.

Walker, governor since November, was defeated in her bid for re-election at the state Republican convention in May. Since then, she has balked at supporting any candidates.

During her monthly KUED news conference Thursday, the governor again refused to specifically endorse high-profile Republican candidates such as Huntsman, John Swallow, Rob Bishop, Bob Bennett or Chris Cannon.

"I'm a Republican, and believe in Republican principles," Walker said. "But I want to spend my time being the best governor I can. We've got a lot of initiatives that are important and that I would like to get in place."

During the primary race between Huntsman and Nolan Karras, Walker remained officially neutral, although there were indications that she supported Karras. For example, she asked her convention supporters to list Karras second on the preferential ballot, and during the primary campaign, Karras created the Olene Walker Scholarship Fund with the governor's approval.

With Huntsman now the party nominee, the expected step for Walker would be to endorse him, although it's a step she's unwilling to take. At the same time, she also is not giving any indication that she is supporting Democratic nominee Scott Matheson, despite her gratitude for the support he gave her child literacy initiative in his education plan.

"I'm seeing signs of success with things like the reading program around the state," she said. "I'm excited that candidates are supportive of those programs."

Huntsman campaign manager Jason Chaffetz said that they are not concerned about the lack of a formal endorsement from Walker, primarily because she has been very willing to work with Huntsman. He also said that he expects them to have plenty of appearances together, such as the joint welcome this past week of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Matheson spokeswoman Kate Fielder said he was "letting the governor's comments speak for themselves."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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