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Richard Piatt ReportingNow that Governor Leavitt is not a candidate for re-election, a slew of Republicans are taking their own candidacies more seriously.
One of them, Jon Huntsman Junior, stood out in a recent KSL-TV, Deseret News poll...and may very well be considered a frontrunner. He ranks high in public opinion polls, but what does Jon Huntsman Junior feel about running for Governor?
There's no question everyone was waiting to see what Governor Leavitt would do. And now that he's decided, the candidates are starting to play hardball.
Leavitt's nomination for a Bush cabinet job was kept so secret, it took not only State Capitol staffers, but those eyeing for his job by surprise. Among them: Jon Huntsman Junior, a man who ranks high in public opinion polls and who is keeping one foot in the race and treading lightly.
Jon Huntsman, Jr.: "We decided early on that if he weren't in the race we would be prepared to take it seriously. So here we are, he isn't in the race, and we're undertaking what needs to be done so we can take it seriously. "
The same could be said for House Speaker Marty Stephens. But unlike other potential hopefuls, the Governor's nomination did not affect his plans.
Rep. Marty Stephens, House Speaker: "I actually made a decision a few weeks ago. But there are some strategic and other reasons I want to forbear with an announcement for now."
Both Stephens and Huntsman are among those who have been contacting Republican delegates one by one, drumming up support the old fashioned way. It will be at conventions that a key hurdle will need to be crossed for candidates: getting the initial blessing.
Dan Jones, Political Pollster: "They look for someone who can win. More than ideology, that they go for the candidate who will get the most support from the Utah voter."
But candidates need 60 percent of these delegates to avoid an in-party primary. Considering a growing number of potential candidates--including ex-Congressman Jim Hansen, former House Speaker Nolan Karras and others--a Republican runoff election seems likely.