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In Economically Sound Utah, What’s a Candidate to Do?

September 3, 1992

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ It might be easier for Utah’s Republican gubernatorial candidates if the state were facing the kind of hard times that have befallen many other states.

At least then they might have a way to showcase their differences heading into Tuesday’s primary.

As it is, a robust economy in this predominantly GOP state has left Richard Eyre and Mike Leavitt offering voters a choice more of style than substance.

″I really doubt very seriously there’s much difference, policy-wise, between the two of them,″ said former state Republican chairman Kent Shearer.

Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter, 59, is leaving after two terms to return to his construction business.

The winner of the GOP primary will face independent Merrill Cook, Democrats Pat Shea or Stewart Hanson Jr., and a bevy of third-party candidates in November.

The race will determine whether the Republicans can maintain their eight- year lock on the Statehouse following 20 years of Democratic control.

Eyre, a 47-year-old Harvard MBA, has used his political consulting background to shape an image of a mainstream Republican who nevertheless is a visionary ″outsider.″

Leavitt, 41, is an insurance executive with connections - he’s been endorsed by the governor and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah. He has slowly advanced in the polls, leading Eyre 47-36 percent Aug. 17, with 16 percent undecided.

Both have their share of ardent followers, but critics have not been kind to either. Eyre has been characterized as a relentless self-promoter, Leavitt as a clone of Bangerter, his staid mentor.

Like most Utah politicians, the GOP candidates are members of the Mormon Church.

Eyre and his wife, Linda, are founders of a family and parenting organization. They have written 21 books and have a church-sponsored TV program.

Leavitt, in addition to leading an insurance firm, is a Bangerter appointee to the Board of Regents, which governs Utah’s colleges and universities.

Eyre managed Garn’s first Senate campaign in 1974 and served on two of President Reagan’s advisory commissions. He worked for Govs. George Romney of Michigan and Nelson Rockefeller of New York, and for former Utah Sen. Wallace Bennett.

Leavitt managed Garn’s 1980 re-election campaign, as well as those of GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch and former congressman Dan Marriott. In Washington, he coordinated the Northeastern region for Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign.

Eyre contends that his experiences living in London, Japan and Mexico have given him an international perspective needed in small, relatively insulated Utah. ″I think I come in as a guy who’s half Utah, and half the world,″ he said.

Leavitt points to his business successes at home, saying they reflect the kind of leadership Utahns have long admired. ″I think if you look at the history of governors in this state, it’s a clear trend and pattern,″ he said.

Utah is one of the few states that have withstood the national recession. It has posted a budget surplus eight years in a row. It was $14 million for fiscal 1991-92.

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