Leavitt Raising Funds; Won't commit to Another Race

Leavitt Raising Funds; Won't commit to Another Race

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Mike Leavitt is doing nothing to end speculation that he may run for an unprecedented fourth term in 2004, but still refuses to announce his plans.

"The truth is I love the job," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "And I think I'm better at it than I've ever been. My third term has been the most invigorating and, I think, the most productive in many respects."

The 52-year-old Republican raised an estimated $400,000 from 1,400 guests at his annual governor's gala Thursday night.

Proceeds from the annual bash flow into his "governor's special projects" fund, which in turn could be diverted into his campaign treasury.

Leavitt said an announcement wouldn't come until late summer or early fall. He insists he's not being coy -- he just hasn't made up his mind.

"I've been quite disciplined in saying to myself I don't want to deal with this issue until I am close enough to this that a decision has to be made," he said.

"I made clear to my team that I wanted to preserve every option, because if I choose to run, I'll run a very aggressive campaign. I want to be ready," he said.

Leavitt said he would decide after considering personal and professional "opportunity costs" of whatever other pursuits he would forego to serve four more years in the governor's office.

The first question to be addressed, Leavitt says, is "Do I have the energy, the interest and the appetite to continue at the level of intensity that this office deserves?"

While the general public may waste little thought on an election still 17 months out, prospective challengers are lining up.

The only candidate to have formally announced so far is conservative state Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem.

Other possible candidates for the GOP nomination include House Speaker Marty Stephens, businessman and Republican activist Fred Lampropoulous, state Board of Regents Chairman Nolan Karras and, possibly, former U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr.

If Leavitt chooses to seek re-election, he "definitely" will be challenged within the party, says state Republican Chairman Joe Cannon.

Lampropoulous and Stephens "both told me they're going to run, no matter what," Cannon said.

Stephens was far less definitive in an interview, saying he is "fairly close" to a decision, "but I'm probably a few months away from an official announcement."

Huntsman has said he won't run if Leavitt does.

Stephens briefly considered challenging Leavitt in 2000, criticizing the incumbent for being style over substance. But he ultimately backed down and endorsed Leavitt's re-election.

Lampropoulous political consultant Dave Hansen confirms his boss is in the race to stay.

A 54-year-old self-made multimillionaire, Lampropoulous has been attending every GOP county convention around the state to make an early impression on delegates and insiders, Hansen said.

Karras, a former Utah House speaker, says of his own potential candidacy: "I'm looking at it hard and will make a decision soon."

On the Democratic side, party leaders are pushing Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah law school, to run for the office held for two terms by his father, since deceased.

"He is someone who represents us, who can win and is seriously looking at it," says Utah Democratic Chairwoman Meghan Holbrook.

Democrats last held the governor's office in 1984, when the popular senior Matheson retired after two terms.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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