Put A Fork In Cook

utah rep. merrill cook, in court in salt lake city (week of 4/3/00)
AP
File this one under "how not to run a political career."

Dogged by accusations about his temper, his behavior, and even his mental stability, Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah lost his bid for a third House term in Tuesday nights primary vote.

Cook is the only Republican incumbent to lose in a primary this year.

In a race closely watched because of its potential effect on the GOP's slim majority in the House, political newcomer Derek Smith easily won the nomination in Utah's GOP primary. The 35-year-old millionaire computer company founder received 30,525 votes, or 59 percent, to Cook's 21,528 votes, or 41 percent.


Other Races
Utah's Republican governor, Mike Leavitt, defeated conservative challenger Glen Davis by a 24 percent margin, while GOP voters in South Carolina chose a candidate for a congressional district on the coast and re-elected a state representative challenged by her estranged husband.

And in South Carolina, two-term Republican state Rep. Shirley Hinson captured 52 percent of the vote to win a bitter race against her estranged husband, retired school principal Jimmy Hinson. She is assured of a third term because the Democrats have offered no opposition.

The race was steeped in the details of the Hinsons' troubled marriage, including allegations of death threats and infidelity. Shirley Hinson said her husband was seeking revenge; he said he could do a better job.

Smith moves on to face Democrat Jim Matheson in a contest that promises to be hotly contested and costly, with the GOP's six-seat majority in the House potentially at stake.

Matheson has kept a low profile and piled up money while Cook and Smith battered each other in a campaign that was more about personalities than policies.

"I hope as we move into the general election we can have the dialogue take place on a higher level," Matheson said Tuesday.

Cook, whose seat was considered one of the most vulnerable, had the backing of congressional GOP leaders, but a seemingly constant stream of bad press drowned his chances. He was forced into the runoff with Smith after failing to win enough support from state Republicans at the party's convention in May.

"You can't win when (state) party big shots won't stand up for you," Cook, 54, said Tuesday night, adding that he plans to return to politics. "This guy's not finished yet."

Cook won the seat in 1996 after a half-dozen unsuccessful campaigns for everything from school board to governor. Days before his re-election, he was briefly banned from state GOP headquarters after a foul-mouthed tirade to a receptionist. Soon after he won his second term, Cook fired chief of staff Janet Jenson, who accused him of delusional behavior.

"Merrill has taken up permanent residence in whcko land," Jenson wrote in an office e-mail. "If he asks you to fax his underwear to the speaker's office, please just do it."

Cook said the accusations were unfounded, though he acknowledged having a temper.

State party leaders had said Cook was too weak a candidate to fend off Matheson, son of the late Gov. Scott Matheson, a state political hero and the last Democrat to hold the office.

Smith stepped into the race minutes before the filing deadline. He had no political experience, but spent $509,000 of his own money on the race. The only other incumbent to lose in a primary this year was nine-term Democratic Rep. Matthew Martinez of California.