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The newly announced United Utah Party turned in about 2,100 signatures Thursday in the quest to become ballot certified, and plans to announce Friday its candidate for the 3rd Congressional District special election.
Jim Bennett, executive director of the party that hopes to become a political refuge for disaffected Republicans and Democrats, said he and the other handful of organizers are optimistic the party will be certified, thus guaranteeing it a spot on the ballot.
The party announced its formation only Monday and has quickly gathered what it believes is enough signatures to meet the certification threshold of 2,000 registered voters, with another 400 it expects to submit Friday.
He said interest and support for a new centrist party so far has been gratifying. "It has exceeded our expectations in every respect. We think there is an untapped resource out there of people who are disaffected by how politics works in the state of Utah."
Currently, a plurality of Utah voters, 46.6 percent, are registered Republicans. But unaffiliated voters make up the second biggest share 39 percent. Registered Democrats make up about 11.4 percent of the pool and about 3 percent are registered with other parties.
Bennett said the United Utah Party will be announcing its candidate Friday at a Capitol news conference. The party director described the person as a good candidate who has substantial name recognition.
"This party was in the works long before this election was even being talked about," Bennett said, "but we saw this special election as an opportunity to get in the conversation quicker than we would have otherwise. If it weren't for the special election, we really wouldn't have been able to make any kind of impact until 2018."
The special election was called by Gov. Gary Herbert for the midterm replacement of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who will step down June 30.
The abbreviated election time frame includes an Aug. 15 primary and a Nov. 7 general election to fill the remainder of Chaffetz's term which runs through 2018.
Bennett, son of the late three-term Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, organized the party with Richard Davis, a Brigham Young University political scientist and former Utah County Democratic leader, who signed on as party chairman. Other founders include former Democratic candidates Jonathan Swinton, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate; Vaughn Cook, who was defeated in his bid for governor; Bryson Garbett, a developer and former GOP legislator; and his wife, Jan, a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
The United Utah platform is available online at unitedutah.org.