Envision Utah

2020 election: Utah governor’s race — candidates, issues, key dates and debates

By KSL.com Staff | Updated - Jun. 26, 2020 at 12:41 p.m. | Posted - Jun. 17, 2020 at 8:01 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — With Utah Gov. Gary Herbert deciding not to run for a third term, the state will have a new chief executive for the first time since 2009. What began as a wide-open race likely focused on strengthening Utah’s economic standing will now pivot to who is best poised to lead the state’s response to and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Widespread civic upheaval over racial inequalities has also moved to the foreground.

The field

The latest

What's next

Key issues

  • Utah’s coronavirus response: The biggest curveball for political campaigning is one that none of these candidates could have been prepared for when they entered the race and will affect every other area of policy up for debate. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s role as leader of the state’s coronavirus response task force gives him greater visibility but also opens him to criticism from other candidates over the state’s response. Meanwhile, mask-wearing has become a political question of its own as some local governments move to mandate them while others view that as governmental overreach.
  • Protests for racial equity and police reform: The death of a black man, George Floyd, in the custody of Minneapolis police set off weeks of protests across the country, including Utah. An incoming governor will be asked how they would respond to the protests and how they intend to improve the treatment of minorities by police and address racial inequalities in the state.
  • Economic development: Salvaging Utah’s economy from the ravages of a global pandemic that has caused massive workforce disruptions will be a key point for each candidate, despite the state’s traditional high rankings in economic indicators.
  • Air quality: Improving air quality in the Salt Lake Valley and the state while moving forward on the controversial inland port, which activists believe will exacerbate the problem.
  • Federal land issues: Partisan battles over local control versus federal protection have grown in the past several years, especially after the designation and then shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument.
  • Education: Lawmakers promised historic investment into state education funding during the 2020 Legislative session, but the coronavirus pandemic is threatening those resources. Meanwhile, lawmakers are seeking a constitutional amendment to gain more flexibility in spending money that was previously designated solely for education.
  • Eyes on a bigger prize? Jon Huntsman Jr.’s departure midway through his second term as Utah governor in 2009 (which made Herbert governor) to serve as ambassador to China under President Barack Obama and his previous run for president have been raised by other candidates as evidence his sights might be on a higher office than fulfilling a term as governor, should he be elected. Huntsman’s response is that his federal service is done and Utah is where he wants to serve.
  • Herbert conversation with Wright: Gov. Gary Herbert admitted he spoke with Thomas Wright about possibly leaving the race and endorsing Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Herbert’s choice to succeed him.
  • Support for Trump? All of the Republican candidates now say they will support President Donald Trump's reelection this November, though Cox had previously been critical of him. Other candidates in the party continue to attack Cox for not being supportive enough of Trump. While this may hurt him among strong Republican primary voters, Utah voters overall are more skeptical of the president and gave him the smallest margin of victory of any state he carried in 2016 — an unusually low number for a reliably Republican state in presidential elections.
  • Crossover voters? Huntsman has run ads on social media urging supporters to "make their vote count" by registering to vote in the Republican primary; the party only allows members to participate. He's been criticized by other Republican candidates who say he's gaming the system by recruiting people who aren't loyal party members to tilt the election his way.
  • De facto Election Day? It's been 40 years since Utah elected a Democratic governor, so the winner of the Republican primary on June 30 will be heavily favored in the general election.

Key dates/developments

  • 2016: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says he will not run again. Herbert said again in 2018 that he had “no plans” for a third term, but he appeared to be reconsidering in early 2019 when he said he was receiving “strong encouragement” to run again. He ultimately decided against it and his lieutenant governor entered the race.
  • May 14, 2019: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox declares candidacy.
  • Nov. 14, 2019: Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. declares his intention to win back his old job.
  • Jan. 8, 2020: Former House Speaker Greg Hughes announces his run for the state’s highest office.
  • Jan. 16, 2020: Retiring Utah Congressman Rob Bishop announces he will not be a candidate for governor but makes a surprise entrance as an early choice for running mate by businessman Thomas Wright.
  • March 4, 2020: University of Utah professor Chris Peterson announces his candidacy as for the Democratic nomination for governor.
  • April 14, 2020: Jan Garbett sues the state to be placed on ballot because of hindered signature-gathering during the coronavirus pandemic; she drops her suit on May 4.
  • April 25, 2020: Chris Peterson emerges as the Democratic nominee, and GOP contenders Jeff Burningham and Aimee Winder Newton are eliminated at state party conventions.

Eliminated from the race

  • Jeff Burningham (R), Jason Christensen (R), Jan Garbett (R), Neil Hansen (D), Ryan D. Jackson (D), Zachary Moses (D), Nikki Pino (D), Kevin Probasco (D), Aimee Winder Newton (R)

Watch the debates and forums

LIVE NOW: Utah's four Republican gubernatorial candidates appear in historic prime-time televised debate NOW on KUTV2 and kutv.com/watch

Posted by KUTV 2News on Tuesday, June 16, 2020

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