Which Democrats are considering a run for Utah governor in 2020?

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Much of the attention in the upcoming 2020 election is rightly focused on the race for the Republican nomination for governor. A number of candidates are considering a run next year to replace Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not seeking re-election. But who could possibly be the Democratic nominee next year?

UtahPolicy.com spoke with several Democratic sources, including party insiders and political strategists, to get a sense of which Democrats may be considering a run for the party’s nomination next year. The list of potential candidates runs the gamut from the usual suspects to several intriguing possibilities.

Some Democrats are hoping beyond hope that current 4th District Congressman Ben McAdams will forego another run for Congress and jump into the race, but that may be more of a pipe dream than reality. While McAdams has not yet declared his intentions for 2020, it’s widely expected that he will run for re-election in UT04 next year.

One possible candidate being mentioned frequently is former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. Winder resigned as Salt Lake County Sheriff in 2017 to take over as Moab’s police chief. He recently left that job to return to Salt Lake County for a position in District Attorney Sim Gill’s office. Even though he’s being mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate, several Democratic insiders said it’s more likely that he would challenge current Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson next year.

Former Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf is also being mentioned as a possible candidate next year. Democratic sources say Metcalf is either mulling a run for governor, or could be considering a bid for Utah’s 1st Congressional District seat, which will be open next year with the retirement of Rep. Rob Bishop. Metcalf may be hoping the race for the Republican nomination in UT01 will be so bruising that he may be able to “capture lightning in a bottle” and win the race. It would take a bit of a miracle for that to happen as the district is rated R+26 by the Cook Political Report, meaning it’s 26 points more Republican than the national average.

Democrats say former State Senator Scott Howell could be considering a run for governor next year. Howell tells UtahPolicy.com it’s a “very long shot” that he would be a candidate. Howell was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2000 and 2012, both times losing to Orrin Hatch.

There’s some speculation Peter Corroon, the former Utah State Democratic Chairman, is thinking of running next year. Corroon lost to Herbert in the 2010 special election after former Gov. Jon Huntsman stepped down to become ambassador to China. Corroon’s inclusion on the list may be more wishful thinking than an actual possibility. One Democratic strategist suggested Corroon may be too busy with his real estate business to attempt another run for governor.

Former Sen. Pat Jones has been mentioned by several Democrats as a good choice for party nominee in 2020, but she adamantly denied any interest in the job. “That’s news to me,” she said in an email to UtahPolicy.com.

House Minority Leader Brian King also came up several times as a possibility, but he also denied any desire to run. “I’m flattered that people would think I’m worthy or viable,” he said in a text message Wednesday afternoon.

Some Democratic Party stalwarts are suggesting former Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly could be a contender for the nomination next year. But that would be a difficult sell as he has mostly faded from the public eye since his retirement.

All of this speculation could be nothing more than an academic exercise as many Democrats are resigned to another loss in 2020, especially with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox already in the race and rumors that former Gov. Jon Huntsman is considering a run.

The last time a Democrat got more than 35% statewide in a Utah gubernatorial contest was the 2004 race between Republican Jon Huntsman and Democrat Scott Matheson. Matheson got 41.4% of the vote that year. The previous election cycle saw Democrat Bill Orton grab 42.3% of the vote against Mike Leavitt.