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SALT LAKE CITY -- It looks like the race for governor will be Gary Herbert versus Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. KSL News and The Associated Press confirmed rumors Friday about Corroon's intention to enter the race.
The moderate Democrat is widely seen as his party's best chance to unseat Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who took office in August after Jon Huntsman resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.
"My plan as governor is to get Utah back to basics, with a smaller, more efficient government focused on educating our children, creating jobs by fostering locally owned businesses, bringing new companies to Utah, and making Utah a leader in renewable energy while protecting our unique quality of life," Corroon said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling could not immediately be reached for comment.
Corroon is the only Democrat even mentioned in this year's race for governor. Likewise, Herbert is the only Republican.
The two have clear political differences, but they share one specific challenge: generating statewide interest and name recognition. According to political pollster Dan Jones, they also need to appeal to a growing number of independent voters.
"Not only in Utah, but across the nation, independents are going to play an extremely important role," Jones said.
Even so, Corroon's specific challenge will be that of a Democrat winning in mostly-Republican areas of Utah. Jones said Corroon is going to need to raise a lot of money to advertise in all 29 counties, and he must win a majority of voters in Salt Lake County.
"It'll be a contest. Peter Corroon is a very credible candidate, there's no question about that," said Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen. "The perception is he's done a pretty good job as mayor of Salt Lake County, but the simple fact is in this race you have a new governor who has got off to a great start."
Utah is a heavily Republican state, but Corroon has managed to maintain high approval ratings in the state's largest county by gaining a reputation for being fiscally conservative. Outside of Salt Lake County, Corroon is best known for opposing a public financing plan to help build a stadium for Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake.
As a possible campaign preview, Corroon touted his leadership at this week's State of the County address.
"I think Salt Lake County is leaner and meaner," Corroon said. "I think our employees did a great job of finding efficiencies."
Right now, Democrat Corroon is viewed as a long shot against Republican Herbert. Even their differences on hot statewide legislative topics, like nuclear waste and ethics issues at the Capitol, may not be enough to overcome that.
"He has a lot of factors going against him. There isn't a popular Democratic candidate that could maybe pull him a little bit. So, it's very uphill for Corroon," said Kirk Jowers, executive director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
A Democrat has not served as governor in Utah since Scott Matheson left office in 1985, but Herbert has to endure a tough legislative year, and then a campaign. Jones predicts it will be a close race.
Corroon will formally announce his intent to run for governor Monday. He has said that he wouldn't resign as mayor during a gubernatorial campaign.
Both parties will choose their nominees at conventions in May.
Story compiled with contributions from Richard Piatt and AP writer Brock Vergakis