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Jon Huntsman, Spencer Cox leading GOP field in Utah governor’s race

Lieutenant governor slipped a little in latest poll, but other candidates made small gains

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, left, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. participate in a gubernatorial debate during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, left, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. participate in a gubernatorial debate during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The battle over the Republican nomination for Utah governor remains a two-person race at this point in the contest, though one of the leaders has slipped a little, according to a new poll.

And while former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox have a wide lead over the rest of the pack, others have made modest gains, though they all remain in single digits.

Still, nearly a third of those surveyed aren’t sure who they would vote for.

Huntsman continues to be the front-runner with 32% of Utahns saying they would vote for him in the GOP primary election in June, the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows.

Cox, a former state lawmaker who has served as lieutenant governor since 2013, follows with 20% — a 5% drop from the January survey.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen queried 312 likely Utah primary voters Feb. 24-March 1. About 85% of the respondents are Republicans, while the remainder are Democrats and others who intend to cross over and vote in the closed GOP primary. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

0307Gov Poll
0307Gov Poll
Tyler Pratt

Seven Republicans are vying to replace GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not seeking reelection after more than a decade in office.

Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and businessman Jeff Burningham each captured 7% of the vote in the poll, both up from the previous survey. Both are running regular TV ads.

The survey shows Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton at 2% and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright and Garbett Homes co-founder Jan Garbett, who jumped into the race two weeks ago, at 1% each.

Republicans backing Huntsman and Cox mirror the overall numbers reflected in the poll, at 32% and 20%, respectively. But 31% of them are undecided. The candidates are almost evenly split among Democrats.

Interestingly, Huntsman — a moderate who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations — is doing better than Cox with voters who identified themselves as very or somewhat conservative.

Huntsman also captured nearly half of those who consider themselves moderates, the survey shows.

Businessman Jeff Burningham, left, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Clint Betts, executive director of Silicon Slopes, former GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox pose for a photo following a gubernatorial debate during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.
Businessman Jeff Burningham, left, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Clint Betts, executive director of Silicon Slopes, former GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox pose for a photo following a gubernatorial debate during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The GOP primary ballot could have as many as seven names for governor. Candidates may qualify by collecting the required 28,000 voter signatures or by winning a spot at the state convention in April.

Wright qualified for the primary this week after the lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees state elections, verified his signatures. Cox is close to qualifying.

Hughes and Winder Newton are the only two candidates not gathering signatures.

Among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who make up about two-thirds of those surveyed, 32% favor Huntsman, while 23% back Cox. Another 28% are undecided.

Democrats Zachary Moses, Nikki Pino and University of Utah law professor Chris Peterson have filed with the state to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot.