Heading into primary, Cox leads
tight race with Huntsman
By Robert Green
In the long, hard race to become Utah’s next governor, Sanpete County’s own Spencer Cox has kept true to his word.
He has ran a positive campaign and refrained from smearing his opponents. He has not forgotten his rural roots; he has tried to visit the all the cities in Utah.
But most amazingly, the self-proclaimed “kid” from Sanpete County is the frontrunner in the tightly contested Republican primary election for governor, to be decided June 30.
He is counting on grassroots support and rural votes to get him across the finish line.
Cox has been a top contender in the polls from the beginning, even as former Gov. Jon Huntsman entered the fray; and he won the Utah Republican Convention.
Now, with less than two weeks left in the race, Lt. Gov. Cox and his running mate Deidre Henderson, are leading in a recent poll from Suffolk University and the Salt lake Tribune. In the June 10 poll, Cox is supported by 32 percent of registered Republican voters, compared to Huntsman’s 25 percent, a 7 percent lead. Greg Hughes was supported by 17 percent of those polled and Thomas Wright pulled in 9 percent of the vote.
This poll is similar to other polls, Cox said. An earlier survey from the Desert News/Hinckley Institute of Politics on June 1 showed Cox with a substantial lead over other contenders.
“I never thought they would let a kid from Sanpete County do something like this,” Cox said. “It’s an honor to represent the people of this county. It’s the place that means the most to us.”
So can the guy with the campaign slogan “Utah’s Homegrown Governor,” hold on to win the Republican primary and go into the general election against Democrat Chris Peterson as the heavy favorite?
Cox has a few things going for him. Namely, the Republican primary is open to registered Republican voters only, and Cox said he has a lot of support from that group. He received more delegates than anyone else at the convention.
However, Huntsman, the closest rival in the race, is more popular with unaffiliated voters and Democrats who say they will switch party affiliation and vote in the race. According to the recent poll, Cox and Huntsman are neck-and-neck among a pool of 500 likely voters, with 130 of them stating their intentions to switch their party affiliation before Election Day.
With the primary election being a mail-in ballot throughout the state this year, Cox said he is confident that “this late in the game, most people that are switching parties have already switched.”
Cox said he is disappointed by tactics to switch party affiliation for a single election.
“I always believed in a big tent Republican party,” Cox said. “This is certainly different than the gamesmanship to get democrats to switch over to support you and then switch back.”
Cox said there is a really strong base of Republican support to carry him through; and he is counting on rural votes to make the difference. “It’s been decades since we’ve had an actual governor who lives in rural Utah running for governor,” he said.
With mail-in ballots already sent out, the election is well-underway, Cox said. “We are seeing a large number of people who people who have already mailed back their ballots.”
In response to a bunch of negative ads and comments from naysayer Greg Hughes about Cox being a “Never Trumper,” Cox replied: “I am not worried about negative comments. We will do what’s best for the state. We made a promise to ourselves that we would run a positive campaign; and we’re proud to say we have been able to do that.
“Looking at what we’ve done over the past four years, Gov. Gary Herbert and myself have developed a really good relationship with the Trump administration and have worked closely with issues that impact Utahns and rural Utah.”
Regarding criticism that Cox and Gov. Herbert were too quick to shut down the economy in the face of the novel coronavirus, Cox said, “It’s a false choice on COVID-19 that you have to either care about the economy or safety; both are critical and both influence each other; if we are careful and don’t have serious spikes, we will be able to open the economy even more.”
Cox said the governor’s office knew there would be a surge when people started getting out and going back to work. “It is most important to monitor the hospitalization numbers to make sure we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system,” he said. “We are encouraging people to be safe as they go back; and do everything they can to be safe as we open up.
“We can keep the economy going and beat COVID-19; we can do both; but it’s going to take everyone pulling together.”
One of the reasons Cox ran for governor in the first place was to bring economic development to rural Utah. The pandemic has reinforced something he started before the crisis: Creating opportunities for rural Utahns to work at home remotely and compete for jobs along the Wasatch Front and in other areas of the nation.
“I’ve been preaching this for a long time,” he said. “It was hard to get businesses to consider trying it. Now that they’ve been forced into it by coronavirus, businesses are saying this actually works and it will have a huge impact on the workforce.”
If Cox’s fortune is to win the governorship, he will move into the Governor’s Mansion, but he and his wife Abby will return to Fairview on the weekends and spend as much time as they possibly can in Sanpete, he said.
And if he loses the election and the people are done with him, that’s OK, Cox said. “My hero is George Washington; he always wanted to go back to the farm once his service was over; that is certainly our plan as well: we’ll be done with politics, and grateful for the time we had to serve.”