SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Republicans are gearing up to select a new state party leader from three candidates and to consider revamping the way they nominate party candidates when they gather for their annual organizing convention Saturday.
Another of Saturday's headline events will be an afternoon speech from Mia Love, the 37-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs and daughter of Haitian immigrants.
Love narrowly lost a Utah congressional race to U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson last year in one of the most expensive races in Utah history.
Matheson, a six-term Democratic congressman, represents one of the country's most heavily GOP districts
If Love had won, she would have become the first black, female Republican elected to Congress.
Love has not officially announced whether she will seek a rematch in 2014, but she has filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and has said she is "seriously looking" at another run.
Love's spokeswoman, Alisia Essig, declined to comment on whether Love might officially announce another run for Congress during Saturday's speech.
Saturday morning will kick off with a farewell speech from outgoing state party Chairman Thomas Wright, who announced in March that he would not seek re-election so he can spend time with his family and focus on his day job.
Wright was elected to the post in 2011 after serving as the GOP chairman for Salt Lake County. He's also the president of a real estate company.
In a statement revealing his decision not to run again, Wright said he had been grateful for the opportunity to lead the party.
"This has been one of the greatest honors of my life — and I'm thrilled with what we have accomplished," Wright said in the statement Friday. "We unified the party to nominate exceptional future leaders of Utah — while drastically increasing participation in our election process."
In March 2012, the party announced record turnout at neighborhood caucus meetings.
Wright is a defender of the Utah GOP's caucus and convention system for nominating candidates but supports changes to the system that will increase voter participation.
One group of Republicans has been pushing to overhaul the system, which they say contributes to low voter turnout. The group is preparing a ballot initiative to put before voters next year that would allow candidates that gather enough voter signatures to earn a spot on a primary ballot and bypass the convention nominating system.
The current system of local caucus meetings and a nominating convention is only used by a handful of other states. Under Utah's system, a candidate can avoid a primary race if they receive 60 percent of the votes from delegates at the conventions. If no candidate reaches the 60 percent threshold, the top two candidates compete in a primary.
The system led to the defeat of former U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett when he finished in third place at the 2010 state Republican convention. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee won the resulting primary and general election.
At the GOP convention Saturday, delegates will consider proposals to boost the 60 percent threshold to 66.6 percent, or two-thirds, which would force more races to go through a primary.
If the 4,000 delegates at the convention make that change, the group behind the initiative has agreed to abandon the effort, the Deseret News has reported.
Any changes to the GOP system will have a large impact on Utah politics, which Republicans overwhelmingly dominate. According to the most recent Gallup tracking, Utah is the most Republican state in the country.
Utah's Democratic Party, which also uses a caucus system, will consider measures at its annual meeting June 22 to abandon that system altogether and have candidates for the party's nominee compete directly in a primary election.