Almost a year ago, Republican activist Cherilyn Eagar -- described by some as "Utah's Sarah Palin" and "Jason Chaffetz in a skirt" -- plunged into the U.S. Senate race, vowing to boot three-term incumbent Bob Bennett out of Washington, D.C.
"It must have been the last week in May, right around Memorial Day, that my husband and I sat down together, put our plans on hold, had about three sleepless nights and decided to go for it," Eagar said in a Tribune interview. "We've been committed ever since."
To Eagar's credit, she stayed in the fray when others pulled out, said Kelly Patterson, director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
"Those first few candidates helped define the issues that would be important to the delegates" -- including big government, budget deficits and the Constitution, Patterson said.
Contacted by phone during her recent travels across the southern half of the state, the 59-year-old businesswoman said her many months of campaigning have been enlightening.
"Going around the state multiple times from top to bottom, we've learned that people are concerned about their job futures,"Eagar said. "We've learned there's great value in staying power, getting in early on, and helping people get to know us as consistent and dependable."
At the state GOP convention Saturday, 2,100 delegates will trim the crowded field of eight candidates and Eagar's odds of survival appear shaky.
However, almost anything can happen in Utah's red-state politics.
"If you believe the polls, it seems like Eagar has been crowded out," Patterson said. "But history also shows that it's rarely wise to predict what can happen until the ballots are counted. Delegate preferences can be so changeable."
While all of Bennett's challengers jumped to his right and attacked him as a Washington insider, a recent Tribune poll of delegates put Eagar behind Bennett, with attorney Mike Lee far out in front and former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater coming in second.
But in the state's most conservative enclave -- Utah County -- a recent straw poll taken at its GOP convention placed Eagar second with 258 votes, compared to Lee's 458, Bridgewater's 182 and Bennett's 176. Leonard J. Fabiano, Jeremy Friedbaum, Merrill Cook and David Chiu trailed the top four as they have in other tallies.
"We've got to go to Washington and clean up the backroom deals," Eagar said, noting that her campaign is largely funded by grass-roots sources. Of the $131,147 she reported on her end-of-March financial report, $65,000 came from her own pocket, $61,544 from individuals and $4,600 from the Eagle Forum PAC.
In the 1970s, as much of the country swung left, Eagar cut her ideological teeth battling the Equal Rights Amendment. Utah remains one of 15 states never to ratify the proposed 27th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"As a woman, I came into the fray fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment as a socialist agenda calling on big government to control our lives," Eagar said. "I learned at a very young age how to fight these battles and stand my ground."
A proponent of smaller government, Eagar advocates axing the federal Departments of Education and Energy, chopping congressional perks and pork spending from the federal budget and moving social "entitlement" programs back under the purview of the private sector.
A recent message from the Eagar campaign touts her as the Republican Senate candidate "without any symptom of metastasis of the cancer of progressivism.
"Let us pray The Spirit that moved the Founders will move among the Delegates," the missive said.
In her own words, Eagar acknowledged that "being a politician has not been a pursuit of mine" and one term would suffice.
" If I can go back there and stand on principles," Eagar said, "I hope I will do the right thing -- and re-election would not matter."
» Born to conservative parents in 1950
» Remembers conversations with family friend Ronald Reagan, 1971
» Helped fight the Equal Rights Amendment in Utah, 1978
» Raised and educated her children at home and in private schools through the 1980s
» Fought "radical feminist agenda," exposed "pornographic" master's thesis at Brigham Young University, 1991
» Managed Tom Draschil's unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Chris Cannon, 1996
» Worked on the Pat Buchanan failed presidential bid in 2000
» Battled Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs in Utah schools, 2006
» Joined forces with state Sen. Margaret Dayton to attempt to cut off funds for the International Baccalaureate program in 2009
» Active in 9-12 and tea party coalitions, 2009
Source: The Cherilyn Eagar campaign