1st governor's debate announced, Debate Commission releases poll as election nears

Democrat Chris Peterson and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, pictured in these 2020 file photos, are running for Utah governor.

(Kristin Murphy, KSL, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Wednesday morning featured a double dose of Utah election news — a gubernatorial debate was announced and the Utah Debate Commission released the polling results that will determine which candidates participate in its debates that begin later this month.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns will host Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and law professor Chris Peterson, the respective Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, in a debate for its annual convention attendees on Sept. 25 at 9 a.m.

The event will mark the first time the two candidates have debated each other since the governor's race was narrowed down in the June 30 primary election. Cox narrowly edged out former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to claim the GOP mantle for the office.

The debate will be moderated by Deseret News editor Doug Wilks and livestreamed for convention attendees and a limited number of guests physically present at the Salt Palace host venue. The full debate will be released at a later date for the general public, League spokesperson Susan Wood told KSL.com.

Days later, on Sept. 29, Cox and Peterson will meet again for a Utah Debate Commission event moderated by KSL's Doug Wright at 6 p.m.

In a statement, the Cox campaign said the lieutenant governor "looks forward to both upcoming debate opportunities."

"Utahns know Spencer is the experienced leader our state needs to ensure Utah recovers from this pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever," the campaign said. "He will continue to share his message with voters across the state."

Meanwhile, Peterson said he is "looking forward to a public debate on the complicated challenges Utah is facing."

"Decades of one-party leadership has left us with neglected schools, polluted air, predatory payday lenders, unlimited campaign donations, watered-down ballot measures, and an ineffective response to the coronavirus pandemic," he said. "Voters need choices and our campaign is proud to be standing up for the interests of ordinary working Utahns across the state."

The Debate Commission required a certain polling threshold for entry into its debates, surveying 500 random registered voters in each congressional district to determine who had the requisite support. Formally, the commission's threshold was 10%; however, due to the poll's margin of error, the commission accepted any candidate who garnered more than 5.62% support.

Libertarian candidate Rob Latham, running in the 2nd Congressional District race against incumbent Republican Rep. Chris Stewart and Democrat Kael Weston, is the only third-party candidate to crack the lineup in the Debate Commission schedule. Their three-way debate for that race is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 19, at 6 p.m.

In an email, Latham said he is "grateful for the opportunity to be the Libertarian Party's first candidate invited to participate in this forum."

"Voters in Utah's Second Congressional District deserve the credit for — and will be the beneficiaries of — the Utah Debate Commission's inclusion of a Libertarian perspective," he said.

Libertarian candidates came close to making the stage in the governor's race (Daniel Cottam) and attorney general's (Rudy Bautista), but Latham was the only candidate who made the cutoff with 6.5% polling support.

Here is a lineup of Utah Debate Commission debates, along with their moderators and the polling support measured by the commission's survey:

1st Congressional District

Thursday, Sept. 24, at 6 p.m.

Moderator: Rod Arquette

Candidates: Darren Parry (D, 22.4%) vs. Blake Moore (R, 48.6%)

Utah Governor

Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m.

Moderator: Doug Wright

Candidates: Spencer Cox (R, 55%) vs. Chris Peterson (D, 19.6%)

4th Congressional District

Monday, Oct. 12, at 6 p.m.

Moderator: Doug Wilks

Candidates: Ben McAdams (D, 47.2%) vs. Burgess Owens (R, 36.7%)

3rd Congressional District

Thursday, Oct. 15, at 6 p.m.

Moderator: David Magleby

Candidates: John Curtis (R, 50.6%) vs. Devin Thorpe (D, 20.4%)

2nd Congressional District

Monday, Oct. 19, at 6 p.m.

Moderator: Pat Jones

Candidates: J. Robert Latham (L, 6.5%) vs. Chris Stewart (R, 47.8%) vs. Kael Weston (D, 28.4%)

Utah Attorney General

Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 6 p.m.

Moderator: Jennifer Napier-Pearce

Candidates: Sean Reyes (R, 46.4%) vs. Greg Skordas (D, 25.2%)

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