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Moderate Republicans look to stave off challenges from the right at Utah party convention

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Moderate Republicans, who often have been successful with Utah voters, will look to stave off farther-right challengers at Saturday’s state GOP convention, which typically favors the most conservative contenders.

All eyes are on the crowded race to succeed U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the state’s best-known centrist Republican, who often made waves for opposing former President Donald Trump and other leaders of the party.

Delegates at the convention will select the party’s nominee, though there is no guarantee their pick will win the June primary and end up on the ballot in November.

The pool of nearly a dozen Republicans vying to replace Romney includes a congressman, a former state legislative leader and the lawyer son of Utah’s longest-serving U.S. senator. While some have sought to align themselves with farther-right figures such as Trump and Utah’s other senator, Mike Lee, others have distanced themselves in an effort to appeal to the widest swath of voters.

“This seat gets to be sort of a flashpoint between the two major factions of the party in the state,” Utah State University political scientist James Curry said. “On one hand you have the more moderate faction that Romney really embodied, not just here but nationwide, versus the more pro-Trump faction that often hasn’t been as successful with Utah voters when there’s been a viable moderate option.”

Among the top contenders are former state House Speaker Brad Wilson and U.S. Rep. John Curtis.

Wilson, 55, has endorsed Trump’s reelection bid and promises to be a “conservative fighter” on Capitol Hill.

Curtis, 63, who is seen as the more moderate of the two, has been compared to Romney for pushing back against hardliners in his party, particularly on climate change.

Wilson will likely appeal to convention delegates, who tend to be more conservative, while Curtis could have broader appeal among primary voters, Curry said.

Both already have collected enough signatures to qualify for the primary regardless of Saturday’s outcome, but the winner could leverage that to boost their campaign.

Republican Party nominations historically have had little bearing on who Utah voters choose to represent them, however.

Nominees for governor, Congress and other offices also will be selected Saturday.

Hannah Schoenbaum, The Associated Press

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