Alex Brandon, AP Photo, File

Poll: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. favorite on list of possible candidates for governor

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Posted - Oct 23rd, 2019 @ 12:47pm



SALT LAKE CITY — A third of likely Utah voters would choose former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as their next governor, according to a new Salt Lake Chamber poll released Wednesday that also gave Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox the edge among Republican voters.

The poll showed 33% of likely voters would vote for Huntsman if the election were held today, compared to 26% for Cox. Among just GOP voters, Cox led Huntsman, 34% to 30%. Other candidates were in the single digits and the poll did not include Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, who got in the race Wednesday.

Huntsman, who recently returned from Moscow after serving two years as President Donald Trump’s U.S. ambassador to Russia, told the Deseret News Tuesday he expects to announce his decision on running for a third term as governor the second week of November.

He was first elected governor in 2004 and stepped down shortly after winning a second term to become U.S. ambassador to China under then-President Barack Obama. Huntsman’s lieutenant governor, Gary Herbert, who has been governor since 2009, is not seeking reelection next year.

Cox was the first candidate to announce a run for governor in 2020. The only other candidate officially in the race at the time of the polling was businessman Jeff Burningham, who polled at 2% among both likely and likely GOP voters. So did former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who has already raised some $500,000 for a run.

Fairing better was former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, at 4% among all likely voters and 7% among GOP voters. Businessman Spencer Eccles, who headed Herbert’s Governor’s Office of Economic Development, was at 5% among likely voters and 3% among Republican voters.

Cox’s campaign manager, Austin Cox, was pleased with the numbers.

“We are very encouraged that Utah Republicans approved of Spencer’s leadership as lieutenant governor and support his vision for the future. Primary voters appreciate that the lieutenant governor is the only candidate to visit al 248 cities and towns across Utah’s 29 counties and that his campaign is focused on bringing communities together, not attacking opponents” Austin Cox said.

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Nearly a quarter of voters said they didn’t know yet who they would vote for in the governor’s race, 21% of al likely votes and 22% of Republican voters. Those numbers nearly doubled when voters were asked who they were least likely to vote for in the governor’s race.

Huntsman was ahead of the other candidates on that question, with 15% of all voters and 18% of Republican voters putting him at the bottom of their list. Eight percent of likely voters and 6% of Republican voters said the same for Cox, and both Hughes and Burningham were in the double-digits among some voters as their last choice.

The “Utah Outlook Taking the Pulse of Our Community” poll, a quarterly survey of Utahns aimed at helping the business community understand the electorate, also measured the favorability of various political leaders. Huntsman tied for the highest rating, 68%, with Herbert, while Cox was at 48%.

Eccles was viewed favorably by 23% of voters; Hughes, by 19%; Winder Newton, by 15%; and Wright, by 11%. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who is not running again for Congress but is considering getting into the governor’s race, had a 39% favorability rating.

The poll was conducted for the Chamber oct. 3-10 of 600 likely voters around the state and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, a margin that is higher for smaller samples such as only Republican voters.

The Chamber said in a statement it was encouraged by how the poll complements efforts “to provide quarterly insight concerning economics and policy relevant to our members, government leaders, and all who may be interested” and that it will “provide a fluid view of what Utahns are thinking and feeling in a way that encourages responsive discourse and engagement.”

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