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SANDY - Republican delegates elected a new state party chairman and reaffirmed their support for presidential candidate Mitt Romney during their annual convention Saturday.
And by impressive margins.
Republican insiders predicted Micron lobbyist Stan Lockhart would win the chairman's race, but convention organizers were surprised when he received more than half the votes on the first ballot, despite four other challengers.
His quick win didn't give the staff time to tally the results of a presidential straw poll before almost all of the 1,600 Republican delegates left the South Towne Expo Center.
The stragglers learned that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon who also led the Salt Lake Olympic organizing committee, took four out of every five votes, leaving about 250 ballots to be shared among 10 other candidates.
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who puts a Libertarian slant on Republican politics, took second with 70 votes and just more than 5 percent of the total. Paul's supporters were also holding a meeting at the expo center. He recently garnered attention at a Republican presidential debate by suggesting America invited the Sept. 11 attacks by its military involvement in the Middle East.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani received 57 votes and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, collected 54 of the ballots.
During a speech before the convention, Lockhart promised to "raise a lot of money" to help Republican candidate win elections. He also said he would try to better articulate the differences between Republicans and Democrats.
His biggest rival was Aaron Bludworth, an executive with Modern Display who has been a major Republican donor.
Bludworth argued the chairman should not be a lobbyist or an elected official with "conflicts."
But in the end, 54 percent of delegates backed Lockhart, whose wife is a member of the House of Representatives and who counts Senate President John Valentine and Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble as two of his closest friends.
This chairman's race differed from most, because Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. decided not to back a candidate.
The governor and the two U.S. senators generally take turns endorsing a candidate, who delegates then support. But after his first choice backed out, Huntsman decided to leave the race open.
Valentine and Bramble among other lawmakers tried to fill that power void by promoting Lockhart.
His victory once again shows the strength of Utah County in the state party. The last elected state chairman - Joe Cannon - came from Utah County, as does the lieutenant governor and Senate leaders.
Lockhart said his high-ranking associates did not just deliver him the chairmanship.
"I submit that I have paid my dues," he said, noting that he has been a Republican delegate for 15 years.
Lockhart is adopting a party with few staffers. Some left when Cannon, who now is the editor of the Deseret Morning News, stepped down from the party post last year. Then, in April, Executive Director Jeff Hartley was fired by Enid Greene, who finished out Cannon's term as chair.
Greene said she fired Hartley because of the party's massive debt following the last election.
Greene, who presided over Saturday's convention, announced the debt, which reached more than $150,000, had been paid off and that Lockhart will take office with $40,000 in the bank.