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SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Gov. Gary Herbert won a final term as Utah's governor Tuesday despite a well-financed challenge from Democrat Mike Weinholtz.
The Associated Press called the victory for Herbert moments after polls closed. He led Weinholtz 66 percent to 30 percent of ballots counted shortly after 11 p.m.
Herbert was greeted by chants of "four more years" from family and supporters at the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday night. He credited Utahns' positive outlook for the state's success.
"It's been a great run. We've done some really good things in Utah," Herbert said. "We're doing some remarkably good things in this state. Economically, our quality of life, the policies we have developed because of our principles and our values that we have here in this state are really what propel us forward."
Herbert pledged that Utah would continue to lead "in spite of what happens in the country tonight."
"I know we all have some reservations about that," Herbert said, without elaborating. "We are, in fact, the gold standard for state government and quality of life here in this country, and in the next four years we have reason to be optimistic."
Moving forward, Herbert said education will be his top priority.
"It's going to take focus and coming together and having a united effort to raise the bar on education, and I believe that's something we can do over these next four years," he said, pointing to his hopes for his own grandchildren.
Speaking from the Democratic party's election night event, Weinholtz said he was not discouraged by the preliminary numbers, pointing out that Salt Lake County results still weren't unveiled as of 9 p.m.
"We're fighting right up until the end," he said. "We're excited. I couldn’t be more proud of the campaign we ran and the campaign staff. We ran the largest field organization in the history of the state, over 300,000 direct conversations with people by knocking on doors. Our message resonated well with people, and now we just have to wait to see what voter turnout was like and how it was actually received."
Weinholtz, chairman of CHG Healthcare, personally contributed $2.5 million of the more than $3 million raised by his campaign. Herbert, who faced a primary challenge from Overstock.com Chairman Jonathan Johnson, collected more than $3.3 million.
The first-time Democratic candidate tried to win over voters with TV commercials as well as a series of controversial mailers tying Herbert to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Herbert, who went from lieutenant governor to governor in 2009, when then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. stepped down to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, ran on the strength of the state's economy under his leadership.
When he leaves office in January 2021, Herbert will have been in office for 11 years and about five months, making him Utah's second-longest serving governor. Democrat Calvin Rampton led the state for 12 years.
The gubernatorial candidates disagreed on a number of issues, including raising income taxes to bring in more money for schools. Herbert said any hike would stall economic growth, but Weinholtz favored what he called a slight tax increase.
The primary election had been dominated by a secretly recorded fundraising meeting between the governor and lobbyists, where Herbert called himself "Available Jones," willing to meet with their clients in exchange for campaign contributions.
But in the June primary, the governor posted a 72 percent to 28 percent victory over Johnson after coming in behind the business executive among delegates to the state GOP Convention.
With his general election win, Herbert is set to begin his second full term in office in January.
Other statewide elected constitutional officeholders, also Republicans, are returning.
Attorney General Sean Reyes claimed 64 percent of the ballots counted as of 11 p.m. Tuesday. Democratic challenger Jon Harper withdrew from the race just hours before their first debate in September for health reasons.
In the state auditor's race, John Dougall led Democrat Mike Mitchell, 61 percent to 33 percent, in pursuit of a second term. Mitchell said during the campaign the "election is not about red or blue but about green — the color of our money."
And in the state treasurer's race, David Damschen was on track to win his first full term in office after being appointed to the post in December 2015. Damschen led Democrat Neil Hansen, a former state lawmaker, 59 percent to 34 percent.
Contributing: McKenzie Romero, Katie McKellar