SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert continues to earn a high approval rating from Utah voters after nine years, but he's still expected to leave elected office behind once his term ends in 2020.
Seventy percent of Utahns said they approved of the governor's job performance in a UtahPolicy.com poll released Wednesday, a number that has stayed relatively consistent over the years.
The new poll was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the online political news source May 15-25, 2018, of 615 likely Utah voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In 2014, Herbert was ranked the nation's most popular governor with a 73 percent approval rating by the Washington Post, which headlined the story, "The most popular governor in the country? You probably haven't heard of him."
Herbert, 71, assumed office in 2009 after then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China, and has said his second full term in office would be his last.
A growing list of likely candidates for the 2020 governor's race already includes Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox; Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper; and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, now a Fox News contributor.
The governor's feelings about running again don't appear to have changed.
"While it is true that many of Gov. Herbert's supporters have encouraged him to consider another run, there are no plans in place to seek an additional term," the governor's spokesman, Paul Edwards, said in a statement.
Asked about another run by Herbert, Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller, a political adviser to the governor who served as his chief of staff, was a little less certain.
"I think it's an interesting question. I would say maybe, a definitive maybe. The reason I say that is I don't think he's reconsidering it, but I can tell you there are a lot of people who are asking him to reconsider it," Miller said.
He said the high approval rating indicates voters, and especially business leaders, believe the state is doing well.
"They say, 'Hey, why should we mess up a good thing that we've got going. If it's not broke, don't fix it.' The one thing businesses need more than anything else is stability and predictability, and they certainly have that in the Herbert administration," Miller said.
But he said while Herbert appreciates the sentiment, he is also looking forward to having more time to spend with his family and in service to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I think there would have to be a very compelling reason for him to change his goal after public life," Miller said. "He'll continue to be involved one way or another. Besides his faith and besides his family, his other great love is the state of Utah."
UtahPolicy.com publisher LaVarr Webb, who writes a political column for the Deseret News, said Herbert is popular with Utahns because he reflects mainstream voters well.
"He's certainly conservative enough, but practical is a good word to use. He's been a very practical governor" who has pushed his priorities hard, including increasing funding for education, Webb said.
There's another appeal, too.
"People like their governors to be like a father figure," Webb said, and Herbert fits that bill. "Since things are going well in Utah, we don't need to shake things up. His personality is pleasant and he gets along. … He's one of us."
Webb, a chief of staff to former Gov. Mike Leavitt, who stepped down in his third term in office to join President George W. Bush's administration, said he had no doubt Herbert could win another term as governor.
"I just don't know that he wants to do it again," Webb said. "That's totally understandable. After close to three terms, that's a long time to serve."
Still, University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the level of popularity Herbert enjoys is impressive and "certainly the sort of thing politicians hate to squander."
Burbank said it would be hard for Herbert to have a change of heart, however, given the interest in what will be the first election in nearly three decades where a sitting governor wasn't in the race.
The governor's polling numbers will have a big impact on 2020 even without Herbert in the race, he said.
"These really strong numbers clearly are a boost for the lieutenant governor, by association," Burbank said. "There's a lot to be said for steering a steady ship and keeping things moving."
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