Top Ten #2: Governor Spencer Cox
The headline in the Nov. 5 Sanpete Messenger said it all: “Sanpete’s own Spencer Cox is new governor.”
With the Utah electorate being dominantly Republican, the outcome of the race against Democrat Chris Peterson was almost a given.
The final total was 918,754, or 64 percent, for Cox and his running mate Diedre Henderson, to 442,754, or 31 percent, for Peterson and his running mate Karina Brown. Minor-party candidates got 5 percent.
In Sanpete, the vote was completely lopsided with Cox and Henderson getting 10,326 to 1,012 for Peterson and Brown.
The victory made Cox the first governor from Sanpete County since Utah became a state.
In a virtual broadcast from the Fairview Dance Hall on election night, Cox said he wanted to be governor for everyone in Utah, including Republicans, Democrats and all races and religions. He called for Utah to be a beacon of peace, civil rights, humanity and prosperity for the rest of the nation.
The final election was almost an anticlimax to a story that started in May 2019, when Cox became the first Republican to announce his candidacy for governor.
Cox was the first Republican to qualify as a finalist in the Republican primary by gathering signatures from registered voters. In February 2020, the Messenger carried a photo of Abby Cox turning in 28,000 signatures to the Utah elections office.
In June 2019, Spencer and Abby Cox made a commitment to visit all 248 incorporated towns in Utah as part of their campaign.
During early 2020, four other candidates entered the race—former governor Jon Huntsman; former speaker of the Utah House, Greg Hughes; former state Republican chairman, Thomas Wright; and former Salt Lake County Councilwoman, Aimee Winder Newton.
In the Republican state convention, the top two contenders in the convention were Cox, with 52 percent, and Hughes, with 42 percent. So Cox actually qualified for the primary ballot based on the convention vote as well as signatures. Hughes qualified based on his convention performance.
Then both Jon Huntsman and Thomas Wright gathered enough signatures to get into the primary. Aimee Newton lost in the convention and gave up on signature gathering, turning the primary into a four-way race.
Just before the convention, the coronavirus crisis hit, and Gov. Gary Herbert put Cox in charge of the state coronavirus task force. In primary debates and ads, his three opponents attacked him on various aspects of the response.
The night of the June 30 primary, the Messenger covered an automobile-based celebration at the Basin Drive-in on the north end of Mt. Pleasant. As of election night, Cox had an 8,500 vote lead.
But later in the week, Cox’s lead shrink to 750 votes. By the next Monday, seven days after the election, Cox was back up to a 9,000-vote lead and the Associated Press called the race for Cox.
At the time the race was called, Cox and Henderson had 188,707 votes to Huntsman’s 181,377. Hughes had 109,466 and Wright 41,098.
Later in the year, with the coronavirus still the top item on the Utah government agenda, about a dozen people staged a protest against the state mask mandate outside the Cox’s home in Fairview.
The Coxes showed they might have their own congenial style as first family. They served hot chocolate and cookies to the protestors.
In the Christmas issue, the Messenger ran a page 1 interview with the Cox family talking about their remarkable journey in which Cox went from first-term legislator to governor in seven years.
“We are who we are because of where we were raised,” Cox told the Messenger. “…I think the rest of the country, the rest of Utah, is hungry for what we have here. And I’m glad to take some of that to the Capitol.”