Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes tells UtahPolicy.com that as he nears the end of his legislative service this December, he’s thinking more and more about running for governor in 2020.

This is NOT an announcement, says Hughes. If he decides to run, that will come later.

“But I am thinking about what I want to do” when he leaves office the end of this year.

And the governor’s race is on his mind, Hughes admits.

A new UtahPolicy.com poll by Dan Jones & Associates asked job approval ratings for Utah’s top officeholders.

On Hughes, Jones finds:

  • 33 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the job Hughes is doing as speaker.

  • 20 percent disapprove.

  • And a large 47 percent don’t know.

That means nearly half of all Utahns don’t know who Hughes is – Jones identified him only as “Representative Greg Hughes.”

 

That 47 percent unknown is OK by Hughes.

In fact, he likes it.

After 16 years as an outspoken member of the House majority, and four years as an outspoken speaker, Hughes said he’ll gladly take a 33 percent approval rating with 47 percent don’t know.

That means he, for the most part, has a clean sheet with voters – and he gets the chance to tell them about himself and what he’s done.

“I’ve taken hundreds, thousands, of votes” over the years. And political opponents can pick and choose which they want to criticize him for, said Hughes.

But he’s glad to stand on a record – which many running for high office these days don’t even have.

Still, Utah House speakers have not done well in some high-profile races recently.

Former speaker David Clark lost in the 2nd Congressional race several years ago.

Former speaker Marty Stephens lost in the 2004 governor’s race in convention.

Former speaker Nolan Karras made it out of that convention, but lost in the primary.

Going back even further, however, former speakers Jim Hansen and Rob Bishop won U.S. House seats and served there a long time. But when Hansen tried to step up to the governor’s seat, he, too, lost.

It’s clear many good GOP candidates will be looking at the governors race in 2020 – for Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has been in office since 2009 and there are a lot of hungry governor wannabes. (Herbert’s not seeking re-election.)

“I welcome a crowded field,” said Hughes.

Because then a record will matter – he can say not only what he wants to do if governor, he can point to what he’s done to be effective, Hughes adds.

“I’ve shaken up the status quo” on Capitol Hill, said Hughes.

“Still, I don’t have a lot of voters against me.”

“To say I’m unknown” by half of the state “after all that I’ve done? I’m feeling pretty good about that.”

Hughes says he has not been scared to take hard votes in the Legislature, just like you can’t be scared to make hard decisions as governor.

While Hughes has done well with his business partner in managing and developing apartments, he says he doesn’t have the personal wealth to self-fund a governor’s race.

So he will have to fundraise. And that is one consideration he’s now undertaking.

“Can I raise enough money to run a credible campaign?” – which could be over $1 million through a 2020 primary and general election.

Hughes voted for the 2014 SB54 compromise candidate nomination bill that is so hated by certain factions within the Utah Republican Party.

But he’s always been an advocate of the caucus/delegate/convention system, and has been critical of parts of SB54 in recent years.

Like some other conservative GOP officeholders, Hughes has courted the anti-SB54/pro-delegate faction – even getting an award for defending the caucus/convention process from former GOP chairman James Evans in the 2017 convention.

But poll after poll by Jones for UtahPolicy shows not only most Utahns favor SB54 dual candidate route to a primary, most rank-and-file Republicans support it, also.

So SB54 is clearly a two-edged political sword for GOP candidates.

Jones finds that among Republicans:

  • 44 percent approve of the job Hughes is doing, 8 percent disapprove.

  • And 49 percent don’t know.

Clearly, his own party members don’t know who Hughes is.

  • Democrats don’t like Hughes, 45 percent disapprove, 17 percent approve, and 38 percent don’t know.

  • Political independents also don’t know Hughes, 26 percent approve of him, 24 percent disapprove, and 50 percent don’t know who he is.

“I believe I can run a credible race for governor” in 2020, if that is what he decides to do, says Hughes.

It doesn’t matter now if half of all Utahns and Republicans don’t know who he is – it will matter at convention, primary and general election time in 2020, he says.

Jones polled 615 adults from May 15-25. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.