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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Former Senate President John Valentine said Monday he won't challenge Utah Gov. Gary Herbert for the Republican nomination in 2010, a move that will likely allow Herbert to lock up the GOP nomination without facing any challengers.
Valentine was the last of several Republicans who had publicly said they were considering challenging Herbert after he took office in August following former Gov. Jon Huntsman's resignation to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Herbert was Huntsman's lieutenant governor, but he is still relatively unknown throughout the state, and Huntsman's record high popularity ratings haven't transferred to Herbert, according to a poll.
The Deseret News/KSL-TV poll released Monday shows that 51 percent of Utah residents believe Herbert should be elected during a special election in 2010 to fill out the remainder of Huntsman's term.
"Considering he's been in office for less than four months, having the majority of the vote is not bad at all," said Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling. "To compare him against Gov. Huntsman's numbers as he left office is a little unfair given the shear amount of time each person had to make an impression."
Valentine, a senator from Orem, said he sensed that Herbert is vulnerable. But Valentine said he didn't want to campaign against Herbert in the middle of a legislative session that will be dominated by an expected budget shortfall of at least $850 million.
"If we have to make those decisions while Gary and I are battling in a gubernatorial election, I just can't conceive of it being in the best interest of the state," he said.
Before Huntsman resigned, Valentine had planned to run for governor in 2012. He said Monday that's still a possibility.
Waiting two years would give Valentine additional time to raise money and allow Herbert to build a legislative record. As it stands now, Valentine said there's little to distinguish the two of them.
No Democrats have said they'll challenge Herbert, but Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon is expected to announce his candidacy in January. Corroon has been fundraising for his political action committee since Huntsman was tapped for the ambassadorship in May.
The Deseret News/KSL-TV poll said Corroon would likely get 32 percent of the vote in a race against Herbert.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)