Analysis: Huntsman qualifies for the ballot. What does that mean for the rest of the field?

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So, even though I didn’t think his campaign could do it, former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman qualified via signature-gathering for the Republican Party’s primary ballot on Monday — the last day he could do so.

No doubt Huntsman and his supporters are much relieved.

There still may be a lawsuit over signature-gathering — mainly by GOP gubernatorial candidate Jan Garbett, who did not make the signature-gathering requirement of 28,000 registered Republicans.

She has hinted to that she may file suit.

But, to be fair, Garbett is a real long-shot to win the GOP nomination — even if she is put on the ballot by a judge. (She signed up to take only the signature-gathering route under SB54, so she won’t even be in the upcoming state GOP convention.)

Huntsman, however, is a top contender, along with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

Huntsman finished second behind Cox in a recent 2News poll among likely GOP primary voters — 33 percent for Huntsman, 40 percent for Cox.

As noted previously, Huntsman’s poll numbers translate into around 225,000 rank-and-file GOP voters now supporting him. If Huntsman had not gotten those 28,000 signatures, and if he hadn’t come out of the upcoming state GOP convention, then a quarter of a million Republican voters would have been denied the opportunity to vote for their favorite candidate this year.

That’s a lot of unhappy party voters.

Could they have taken that out on Cox, who is on the ballot via signatures?

Could they have taken it out on the retiring Gov. Gary Herbert — who declined to move back election dates this year — via bad job performance numbers and hard feelings as the 11-year incumbent left office?

Such displeasure is not happening now.

But Huntsman’s signature success is also good news for several other candidates — namely former House Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton and businessman Jeff Burningham.

They are taking only the delegate/convention route.

And now that both the poll leaders — Huntsman and Cox — are through to the primary election, Hughes, Winder Newton and Burningham can argue to the 4,000 state GOP delegates that they don’t need to even consider voting for Huntsman or Cox.

No, don’t “waste” your first-round vote on those two guys. Pick between Hughes, Winder Newton or Burningham (or even give them a one-two ranking on your Instant Runoff Voting delegate ballot).

Those three can argue they should come out of the convention and be put on the June ballot, along with the three other candidates who got the required signatures (former GOP state chairman Thomas Wright also succeeded in the signature route).

Hughes’ poll numbers put him solidly in third place among likely GOP primary voters.

He really has a case to be made to the delegates — put me through in convention and let the rank-and-file voters decide in the closed GOP primary.

So, Huntsman making the ballot on the last signature-gathering day is good news for just about everyone:

— His candidacy won’t end in the state GOP convention.

— Hughes and Newton can plead with delegates not to end their runs, since the big boys are on the ballot already.

Oh. Wait. I forgot someone.

Huntsman’s signature-gathering ballot making is really, really bad news for Cox.

His main competition — Huntsman — could have been out in the delegate convention vote.

Since both men are seen as “mainstream” Republicans (even though both are now claiming they are hardcore conservatives), a Huntsman failure in convention, and not getting the signatures, would have opened the race up for Cox.

Not ensuring his nomination come June, perhaps.

But without Huntsman on the primary ballot, Cox would have been the clear, clear favorite.

Now we’ll see who can win the most GOP votes come June.