Dozens of county commissioners endorsed Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday after he was rebuffed by a majority of state Republican delegates at Saturday’s party convention.

The group of more than 60 county officials from all of Utah’s 29 counties gave the governor a standing ovation during his “Disagree Better” presentation as part of the Utah Association of Counties management conference in St. George.

Following the general session, the group of local leaders stood outside holding John-Deere-colored Cox campaign signs to reaffirm their support for the first-term governor and former county commissioner of Sanpete County.

“You know how heavy the burden of public service can be,” Cox told the county officials. “You hear people saying things about you that you know aren’t true and it’s tough. But this means the world to us because you’re in the trenches and you know what really happens out there.”

Days earlier, a group of GOP party delegates shouted their disapproval of Cox as he was flanked on the convention stage by rural Utah commissioners. Later, they gave his primary challenger, state Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, a decisive win of 67.5%-32.5% to become the party’s official gubernatorial nominee ahead of the June 25 primary election.

Garfield County commission chair Leland Pollock addressed the crowd of nearly 4,000 delegates to defend what he saw as Cox’s record of conservative and engaged governance amid a chorus of boos that made it hard to hear him.

“I’m here for one reason and one reason only: our governor,” Pollock said. “I work for Garfield County and he’s worked for my county. ... He works for you, whether you like it, hate it, he works for you, I guarantee it.”

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A disconnect between delegates and local officials

Pollock coordinated the Tuesday campaign press event for Cox with Beaver County commissioner Tammy Pearson and San Juan County commissioner Bruce Adams — both of whom also shared the stage with Cox and Pollock on Saturday afternoon.

“We wanted to show the governor and the state of Utah that no matter what the results of the convention were that came out on Saturday, that’s just not the way it is with the greater population, including the elected officials,” Pollock told the Deseret News.

Cox shows up for rural Utah, Pollock said. The governor was the second person to call him after cracks were discovered in the Panguitch Lake Dam earlier this month, Pollock said, and has proven himself to be dedicated to improving the lives of rural Utahns.

Pollock reiterated the message he delivered to state delegates — who tend to be more politically active — telling the Deseret News, “What is being said and reported about this man is just not true.”

Pollock — who describes himself as “a very, very conservative Republican” who supports former President Donald Trump — said the source of the disconnect between how most state officials and party delegates feel toward the governor can be traced back to social media which incentivizes inflammatory behavior over a substantive review of someone’s track record.

Lyman, a certified public accountant, has derided the governor’s “Disagree Better” initiative, accused Cox of being too quick to compromise on conservative positions and claimed he has contributed to making Utah a quasi-sanctuary state for migrants who entered the country illegally.

“As a former county commissioner, I understand the pressure that exists to support incumbent governors,” Lyman told the Deseret News. “As a candidate for governor my top focus is earning the support of Utah voters — including the informed and committed delegates of the Republican Party, who strongly voted for a change in direction on Saturday.”

He continued: “I consider all of these commissioners to be my close friends, and I expect to have their full support after securing a victory in the Republican primary.”

Disagreeing better

County commissioners had already planned to organize a show of support for Cox during their conference, according to Pearson, but Saturday’s rude welcome for the governor “inspired everybody” to share the way they’ve seen the governor actually govern in the state.

“He does the hard work; he has the hard conversations to get things accomplished,” Pearson said.

During his first four years, Cox presided over legislation banning abortion, limiting diversity, equity and inclusion, banning transgender students in female school sports, and signed the largest cumulative tax cut in Utah history. He has also led initiatives on housing affordability and homelessness in the state.

Pearson said it is harder to be swayed by internet attacks when you’re down in the trenches working with the governor on solving problems. Those at the convention who shouted down Cox and Pollock are “the kind of people that just like to throw bombs,” she said.

“There’s so much misinformation out there. And for some reason a lot of the delegates, they just follow some sort of campaign rhetoric and they enjoy the battleground and that just kind of inflames emotions,” Pearson said. “There’s no respect or civility. It just makes zero sense to me at all because that accomplishes nothing.”

Being booed on stage by fellow Utah Republicans convinced Pearson that “Disagree Better” — the subject of Cox’s message to county commissioners on Tuesday — is exactly what is needed for today’s political environment.

“That’s where the best solutions come from,” Pearson said. “But in order to do that, you actually have to have enough self respect for yourself and some respect for your counterparts and be willing to get put some elbow grease and some thought process into it and find a better solution.”

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Adams, whose area of representation overlaps with Lyman’s, said Cox earned his endorsement by working closely with the Native American population near Blanding to secure necessary infrastructure and to improve the Monticello hospital which Adams said was the oldest in the state.

“Now, that shows me that he’s practical, he cares about what’s going on in rural Utah as much as anyplace else and that he’s willing to help solve the problem,” Adams said.

On April 22, the polling firm Morning Consult released its latest gubernatorial approval ratings. Cox’s overall popularity remained constant over the last year, with a net approval rating of around 24%. In the first three months of 2024, 55% of Utah voters said they approved of Cox, 31% said they disapproved and 14% said they didn’t know.

Among Republicans, Cox received a 69% approval rating, with 19% disapproving and 12% feeling unsure. A poll released on Monday by Noble Predictive Insights found the governor with an even higher approval rating among Republicans with an opinion on the primary race.

“This is where we’ve arrived at with our convention system. We have a large number of people within the Republican Party who are unhappy with any elected official of any kind,” Adams said. “What that tells me is that the delegates at the caucus are of a different frame of mind altogether than the actual voting public.”

Correction: A previous version of the story said the Utah Association of Counties convention was composed of mostly county commissioners. The event was attended by county commissioners, clerks, treasurers and other officials.