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Gov. Gary Herbert met separately with the three finalists to be Utah's next attorney general Monday, trying to get a better idea of how each would lead the office out of a yearlong scandal.

The governor's spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said Herbert plans to meet with the candidates again at week's end after he returns from Washington, D.C.

Herbert has said he hopes to make his decision before Christmas.

The Republican State Central Committee chose the three — Sean Reyes, Robert Smith and Brian Tarbet — from a field of seven vying to replace former Attorney General John Swallow, who stepped down earlier this month, citing the financial strain from multiple investigations into his conduct.

Reyes and Tarbet could not be reached Monday. Smith declined to discuss the process.

Reyes, who is general counsel for Accelerate Ventures and eTAGZ, emerged strong from Saturday's GOP gathering, netting nearly 63 percent of the vote on the first ballot.

Smith, managing director at Brigham Young University's International Center for Law and Religion Studies, was a surprise, entering the contest as an unknown but garnering enough support to become the second of three candidates to make it through.

Tarbet, the acting attorney general and former adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, narrowly survived, advancing on the fifth round of balloting. Central committee members said Reyes' supporters threw their votes to anyone but Tarbet in an effort to keep him out of the final trio.

Herbert said Saturday that he doesn't feel bound to pick the candidate who got the most votes from the central committee.

"I certainly will take a look and analyze all aspects of it," said the Republican governor, "but that won't be the only criteria I'll look at."

Herbert has said his goal with the initial interviews is to get a better sense of where the candidates want to lead the office.

"I want to understand what they plan to do, what their vision is for the attorney general's office, what they see as the problems they'll try to clean up and fix," Herbert said. "After that interview, I'll have a better opportunity to decide and evaluate, and then I'll make an informed decision."

Twitter: @RobertGehrke