Republican Utah Gov. Herbert wins special election

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert won his first election at the top of the GOP ticket on Tuesday and earned himself another two years in office by fending off a challenge from Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

It's heartwarming to see the significant support across the state. I'm overwhelmed, really, with the numbers.

–Gary Herbert

Herbert and Corroon were vying to fill the remainder of former Gov. Jon Huntsman's term, which expires in 2012. Huntsman resigned in August 2009 to become U.S. ambassador to China less than a year after a winning a second term by the largest margin in state history.

Herbert, 63, had been Huntsman's lieutenant governor and was responsible for administering the state's elections. When he was inaugurated into the state's top job he promised to provide steady leadership in a time of transition.

With all but one precinct reporting, Herbert had 64 percent of the vote, compared with about 32 percent for Corroon.

It is unclear how Herbert's approach to governing may change now that he has his own mandate from voters.

He called his victory "very humbling."

"I don't know that you're going to see a great deal of difference. We keep getting recognized as about No. 1 in everything. I don't know that we want to have any kind of dramatic change," Herbert told The Associated Press.

"This will give me an opportunity to re-evaluate and to consider making some changes and modifications here and there, but I don't think you'll see anything too dramatic."

While in office and on the campaign trail, Herbert did not outline a specific vision for the state. Instead, the former real estate agent said the state's current policies were working because Utah's economy is stronger than many other states.

Obviously the citizens of Utah felt strongly about continuing on the way things are, and I respect that.

–Peter Corroon

He frequently touted magazine rankings that named Utah as one of the best places to do business and noted that Utah's unemployment rate is consistently lower than the national average.

"I think our best days are ahead of us," Herbert said.

Corroon said things weren't as rosy as Herbert made them out to be, noting that Utah's unemployment was rising to record levels and the state's schools have the nation's largest class sizes.

Corroon released detailed education, economic and environmental plans, among others, but they did little to capture voter attention. Utah Democrats had believed Corroon, 46, was their best shot at winning a gubernatorial election since 1980.

Corroon had developed a reputation as a fiscal conservative while overseeing Utah's largest county government and was best known for opposing public funding to help finance the construction of a professional soccer stadium. Corroon is a policy wonk whose background is in civil engineering, real estate and finance. Well aware of Democrats' drought in statewide elections, Corroon hoped that picking Republican Rep. Sheryl Allen as his running mate could change the race's dynamic by appealing to women, educators and parents.

Allen is a former school district employee who developed a reputation as an education advocate in the Legislature.

But their attempts to steer the public's attention toward education issues fell flat. Instead, the race mostly focused on campaign finance reform.

Corroon accused Herbert of supporting a corrupt system in which large campaign contributors were awarded state contracts and other benefits. He ran one TV commercial that said there was "For Sale" sign in front of the governor's mansion. Utah is one of a handful of states that places no limits on who can donate to a campaign or how large those contributions can be.

The ads turned off prospective voters like 31-year-old South Jordan substitute teacher Connan Smith.

"It seemed like Corroon was kind of negative," he said. "I thought (Herbert) did a good job. The state's in a good position."

Both candidates accepted tens of thousands of dollars from single corporate contributors, and together spent more than $4.5 million on the campaign.

Herbert angrily denied he was corrupt for legally accepting large contributions from companies that have state contracts. Herbert opposes campaign contribution limits because he says it would result in only rich people running for office, while Corroon favors them because he said they limit the influence of large donors.

In a speech to supporters Tuesday night, Corroon said that despite his loss, his candidacy helped force the issue of campaign finance reform, among others.

"Every Utahn wins because we started some important dialogue for this state and there's no turning back. Every Utahn wins, because with this kind of momentum we have earned a seat at the table," he said.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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