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SANDY, Utah (AP) -- State Republicans chose businessmen Jon Huntsman Jr. and Nolan Karras on Saturday for a gubernatorial primary, eliminating Gov. Olene Walker in a convention vote.
Huntsman, heir to his father's chemical conglomerate, and Karras, an investment adviser who heads an agriculture products company and chairs the state Board of Regents, advance to a June primary that will determine the Republican candidate for governor.
That candidate will challenge Scott Matheson Jr., University of Utah law school dean and son of the former governor, who was anointed Utah Democrat's choice on Saturday.
Walker, Utah's first woman governor, finished fourth in an eight-way contest for the GOP nomination after retired U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen.
"We had a field of extremely talented and capable candidates," said Huntsman, who led with 51 percent of the GOP delegate vote, short of the 60 percent needed to win the nomination outright.
Huntsman credited an organized campaign and "winning message" of economic development. A Bush administration diplomat making his first bid for political office, Huntsman acknowledged his name recognition helped, "but with delegates, they're not easily fooled." Huntsman served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore under the first Bush administration and is a trade representative for the current Bush administration.
Huntsman, 44, is chairman and chief executive officer of Huntsman Family Holdings Co., the controlling shareholder in a $9.5 billion string of three major chemical manufacturing companies and hundreds of subsidiaries. He's the oldest of six sons and three daughters of Jon Huntsman, a name familiar to Utah voters.
Karras, 59, said he knew he was emerging as a delegates' favorite, but he had to compete against two other strong northern Utah candidates, making his bid uncertain until the final counting.
Karras, who is close to Walker, said he ended up "eliminating my own good friend."
It was the first time a standing Utah governor failed to win a party nomination in 48 years. But Walker had been governor only since November, taking over when Gov. Mike Leavitt left to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Walker, who was Leavitt's lieutenant governor, didn't jump into the crowded race until March, long after her rivals had established their campaigns.
"She may be a sitting governor, but she was very late to the party," U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, told The Associated Press. "By the time she made up her mind, all the experienced party activists and consultants were already taken."
Bennett added, "A lot of Olene's natural supporters were already working hard for Nolan Karras."
Bennett ran unchallenged for a GOP nomination and will make a bid for a third Senate term against Democrat and former Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam in November
Huntsmen wooed delegates with his business savvy and launched an early campaign supported by many of the state's political operatives.
"I was impressed with the people he collected to really look at the state for an economic plan," Salt Lake delegate Jerry Higginson said. "His dad has been one of our greatest corporate citizens."
Former Utah Republican chairman William A. Stevenson called Huntsman a moderate Republican.
Also Saturday, software executive Tim Bridgewater received 54 percent of the Republican delegate vote, forcing former state representative John Swallow into a primary run-off for Utah's 2nd congressional district.
Swallow, who trailed with 46 percent of the delegate vote, is making his second bid for the seat held by Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah's lone Democrat in Congress and Scott Matheson's younger brother.
Jim Matheson ran in 2002 in a gerrymandered district that takes in almost all of eastern and southern Utah and half of Salt Lake County, defeating Swallow by a mere 1,641 votes.
Former state representative Matt Throckmorton of Springville won 42 percent of the GOP delegate vote to force Rep. Chris Cannon into a primary run-off.
Cannon, who finished with 57 percent of the convention vote, represents Utah's 3rd congressional district.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)