SANDY, Utah – Utah Republicans took Gov. Olene Walker (search), the state's first woman governor, out of the running to keep the job Saturday night, choosing a pair of businessmen to fight for the party's nomination instead.
Walker finished fourth in an eight-way contest for the GOP nomination at the party's convention with 495 of 3,480 votes.
Jon Huntsman Jr. (search), a former ambassador and heir to his father's chemical conglomerate, and Nolan Karras (search), a financial consultant and business owner who serves as chairman of the state Board of Regents, advance to a June primary that will determine the Republican candidate for governor. Former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen (search) finished third.
Each of the convention's delegates ranked all eight candidates in order of preference. Because no single candidate captured 60 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to the primary.
Walker's campaign spokeswoman, Tiffany Smith, said the results were "a surprise," but added that the governor felt she ran a good race.
"She's still the governor and she's pressing forward with the programs and initiatives that she started and looks forward to accomplishing as much as she can during the rest of her term," Smith said.
Huntsman, 44, who led with 51 percent of the delegate vote, credited an organized campaign and "winning message" of economic development.
Karras, 59, who is close to Walker, said he ended up "eliminating my own good friend."
It was the first time a standing Utah governor failed to win a party nomination in 48 years. But Walker has been governor only since November, when Gov. Mike Leavitt (search) left to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Walker, 73, Utah's lieutenant governor for 11 years, did not decide to seek a full term as governor until March, long after her rivals had established their campaigns.
"She may be a sitting governor, but she was very late to the party," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah. "A lot of Olene's natural supporters were already working hard for Nolan Karras."
Walker differs with many fellow Republicans on issues including vouchers for private schools; she vetoed a voucher bill, saying it would undermine funding for cash-strapped public schools.
Huntsman, a U.S. ambassador to Singapore during the first Bush administration and a trade representative for the current Bush administration, favors vouchers and says he would improve Utah's economy.
He wooed delegates with his business savvy and launched an early campaign supported by many of the state's political operatives.
"I was impressed with the people he collected to really look at the state for an economic plan," Salt Lake delegate Jerry Higginson said. "His dad has been one of our greatest corporate citizens."
Huntsman is chairman and chief executive officer of Huntsman Family Holdings Co., the controlling shareholder in a $9.5 billion string of three major chemical manufacturing companies and hundreds of subsidiaries.
In heavily Republican Utah, the GOP nomination is almost a guarantee of victory at the November polls. The state's Democrats Saturday nominated Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah College of Law and son of Utah's last Democratic governor, who served for two terms ending in 1985.
Other Republican who had sought the nomination were Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens, businessmen Fred Lampropoulos, state Sen. Parley Hellewell and political unknown Gary Benson.