Here was a former real estate agent and Utah County commissioner sitting in one of the best political jobs in the state, and some hungry GOP contenders couldn’t wait to get at him.
But Herbert has fooled more than a few GOP insiders over the last several years – first running to fill out former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.’s second term in 2010, and then eliminating several good intra-party challengers in the 2012 Republican State Convention.
Now Herbert is running for his own four-year term.
And he’s not counting out a 2016 re-election bid, as well.
The often quiet, self-effacing Herbert was believed vulnerable on several fronts. But big-name Republicans specifically thought he wouldn’t be able to raise significant campaign funds, even with the power of the governor’s office behind him.
They were very wrong.
In his 2010 campaign, through his political action committee and his candidate campaign committee, Herbert raised and spent $2.598 million.
That was more than sufficient to do away with his Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. Corroon matched Herbert in fund raising, $2.11 million, but lost badly, 31.9 percent to 64.1 percent.
What had been billed as a real test of Herbert’s campaigning, fund raising and politicking turned out to be a near landslide, as Corroon ran a negative campaign that never caught on with most Utahns.
In a way, the Corroon effort let Utahns see Herbert if not a victim, at least as a good man who was trying to do his best.
There were still doubters, however.
And while a number of political insiders waited in 2011 to see exactly who among the GOP elite would step up and take on the governor, in the end he got a serious challenge from only two: State Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, whose public profile included chairing the House’s Redistricting Committee last year; and former state Rep. Morgan Philpot.
Philpot almost knocked of U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in 2010, and most believed – in part because it was what Philpot told everyone – that he would run against Matheson again in 2012.
Again, Herbert ran up an impressive campaign war chest last year and through early 2012.
After spending $2.578 million in 2010, Herbert turned around and raised $1.18 million last year. You have to spend some money to raise some money (Herbert hosts several big-ticket fund raisers each year).
Herbert spent $441,182 last year and ended the year with $739,338.
He moved that cash over to his 2012 campaign account the first of this year. And so far has raised (including that money) $1.14 million.
Herbert had five Republicans file against him this year, with Sumsion, Philpot and Tea Party leader David Kirkham his top contenders.
So the governor had to organize and spend some cash earlier this year. In the end, he spent $674,000. In his latest filings, made just before the June 26 primary, Herbert had $470,300 in cash. (You can see Herbert’s 2012 donors here.)
But he didn’t have a primary. He managed to get more than 60 percent of the delegate vote in the May GOP state convention, winning his re-nomination outright.
No doubt Herbert was helped by a more moderate field of GOP state delegates this year. Kirkham, Philpot and Sumsion attempted to run against Herbert from the right of the state GOP.
But Herbert is pretty conservative himself. He also ran a smart spring campaign – like when he vetoed the much-disliked sex ed bill passed by the 2012 Legislature (which would have required only abstinence-based sex education in junior and high schools) the day after the March Republican Party caucuses.
Sumsion, Philpot and Kirkham couldn’t match Herbert’s spring campaign spending ($674,000), either.
Sumsion spent $27,411, Philpot spent $16,642 and Kirkham spent $138,220 (about $40,000 of his own money).
This year Herbert’s Democratic Party opponent is retired Army Gen. Peter Cooke, who ran as a Democrat for the U.S. House back in the 1980s.
Cooke has raised $150,000 this year, spent $86,000 and has around $63,000 in cash, as of his pre-primary report shows.
Thus, Cooke has only 13 percent of the cash that Herbert has ($470,300) as the summer doldrums hit the campaign field.
Cooke’s latest report is here.
As is usually the case early in a top Democratic Utah contest, Cooke’s largest donors are labor unions – which traditionally step up to provide campaign seed money.
Cooke has challenged Herbert to limit individual contributions to $2,500 and group donations to $5,000 – a challenge that Herbert has declined.
Herbert, who was much criticized by Corroon for his fund raising two years ago (the mayor claimed Herbert raised cash from folks seeking special treatment from the state), has a number of donations topping $10,000 a piece.
The governor’s largest donation comes from Alan Hall of Island Park investors -- $25,000.
Utah has no campaign donation limits in state races, a candidate may raise as much money as he can from any source, including businesses.
Herbert, who has had a lot of TV face-time recently as he shows up at Utah forest fire scenes to encourage evacuees and firefighters alike, has turned into a solid campaigner and fund raiser, much to the surprise of some GOP leaders in the state, and to the disappointment of a few Republican gubernatorial hopefuls who in late 2008 believed the newly-elevated governor could be picked off in either his 2010 or 2012 re-election attempts.