A way too early look at the 2020 elections in Utah

Welcome to the 2020 presidential election cycle!

The ballot boxes aren’t even cold yet, but it’s time to take a way too early look at what’s at stake in Utah two years from now.

The marquee race will be to replace Gov. Gary Herbert. Open offices like this don’t come along often in Utah, so there will be a ton of candidates looking to move up or take the top spot in the Beehive State. Here, in no particular order, is who I think will run, and who won’t.

  • Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox – Definitely in. He’s the clear frontrunner right now according to the political cognoscenti. He’s going to have to do a lot more to boost his name recognition before 2020.
  • Rob Bishop – He’s clearly testing the waters right now. He paid for some polling earlier this year and ran TV ads this election cycle, which is an unusual move, especially when he cruised to an easy win on Tuesday. Bishop hasn’t had to campaign much, if at all since he first entered Congress in 2003.
  • Greg Hughes – Underestimate Hughes at your own peril. He doesn’t have much name recognition right now, but he can campaign as a successful problem solver, with Operation Rio Grande and the deal on medical marijuana (if it passes) under his belt. If he runs, he’ll probably start making those moves in the early summer.
  • Sean Reyes – He really, really, really wants to run. But, right now, he’s not even in the first tier of candidates. You can tell he believes his work fighting human trafficking is a winning issue, but he’s going to have to do more to convince Utah primary voters to give him the nomination.
  • Greg Miller – Voters tend to love businessmen running for governor. Miller has the resources to self-fund, which makes him a serious candidate right off the bat. He’s already talking to people about a potential run.
  • John Dougall – People close to him think he’s going to run in 2020. If he does, expect him to take the convention-only route.
  • Jason Chaffetz – I don’t think he’s running. He’s living the high life as a Fox News contributor and successful author. When he was in Congress, the joke was the most dangerous place to be was between Chaffetz and a camera. I suspect he’s enjoying the attention from the speculation about him running in 2020, but ultimately, I don’t think he’ll give up his TV gig.

The 2020 gubernatorial race could be a battle royale for the GOP. If the dual-path nomination system is still in place, expect most candidates to gather signatures to get a place on the primary ballot. There could be 3, 4 or even 5 Republicans vying for the nomination. If the legislature doesn’t do anything to fix the “plurality problem,” it’s entirely conceivable that the eventual GOP nominee could win with 35% of the vote.  

Who is going to run for the Democrats? Who knows?

If Reyes does decide to run for governor in two years, that means there will be an opening in the Attorney General’s office. Derek Miller, President of the Salt Lake Chamber, has expressed interest in this job in the past. There have also been rumors that Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill may take a run at this office. There are also rumors that Rep. Craig Hall might jump in if Reyes does not run.

If Ben McAdams ends up defeating Mia Love in the 4th District, it’s going to be difficult for Republicans to oust him from that seat in 2020. Donald Trump should be on the top of the ballot, and Trump remains deeply unpopular in Utah. If Love wins, Democrats will be hard pressed to find a challenger and rematches in close races tend to result in a bigger margin of victory for the winner – see Jim Matheson vs. John Swallow and Mia Love vs. Doug Owens part two.

If, as expected, Rob Bishop steps down from Congress after this term, there will be a stampede of Republicans hoping to replace him.

The Salt Lake County Mayor’s office will be up in 2020 as well. If Ben McAdams hangs on to his lead and beats Mia Love in the 4th District, Salt Lake County Democrats will get to pick his replacement who will serve out the last two years of his term. Expect a landslide of Democrats vying to fill his shoes if that happens. If McAdams loses his congressional race, will he decide to run for another term as county mayor, or shoot for another office in 2020?