Republicans will have a four-way primary for governor in June as Greg Hughes joins Cox, Huntsman and Wright on the ballot


Former Gov. Jon Huntsman is thanking his lucky stars that he was able to secure enough signatures to get on the primary ballot as Utah GOP delegates roundly rejected his bid to return to the governor’s mansion Saturday night.

Huntsman was eliminated from contention in the second round of ranked-choice voting at the Utah GOP convention, but he lives to fight another day as he is one of four candidates who will be competing in the June primary election. The other three are current Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, former Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes. Cox and Wright also gathered signatures to secure a spot on the ballot, while Hughes put all his chips on the convention system and was rewarded by delegates. 

The results on Saturday mean Salt Lake County council member Aimee Winder Newton, businessman Jeff Burningham and erstwhile candidate Jason Christensen saw their candidacies come to an end. Both Winder Newton and Burningham abandoned their efforts to get enough signatures to appear on the ballot and put their fates in the hands of GOP delegates.

The June GOP primary promises to be a slugfest, as Cox, Hughes and Huntsman bring formidable political acumen and instincts to the fight. Wright, a relative newcomer to Utah electoral politics, has longtime 1st District Congressman Rob Bishop in his corner as his running mate. 

It should be noted that party convention results are notoriously much more conservative than primary elections, and they rarely are good predictors of the eventual primary election outcomes.

A recent 2News poll from Y2 Analytics showed Cox and Huntsman leading a potential primary election matchup, with Hughes in 3rd place. Wright has a lot of ground to make up before ballots go out to voters in late May, as he had just 1 percent support in the poll.

The four-way GOP primary will be a first in Utah politics since the 2014 SB54 compromise allowed candidates to avoid elimination at the convention by gathering signatures. It is conceivable that the primary winner could capture the GOP nomination with 35 percent of the vote in June. 

Republican Jan Garbett, who failed to get enough signatures to qualify, is suing for a spot on the June primary ballot claiming the COVID-19 outbreak prevented her from reaching the threshold. If she is successful, it would throw another wrench in the works as a four-person primary would become a five-way contest.

The winner of the June Republican primary will almost certainly become the next governor of Utah, replacing Gov Gary Herbert, who is retiring after 11 years in office.

Democrat Chris Peterson easily secured his party’s nomination on Saturday, demolishing the five other candidates in the race with 88 percent of the delegate vote on the first ballot. 

The University of Utah law professor did not mince any words when asked about the challenge he’s facing in November, acknowledging that Democrats have not prevailed in a statewide contest in nearly 30 years.

“It’s going to be a difficult race,” he said. “But I think voters will be ready to consider a change in November.”

Coleman advances to four-way GOP primary in 4th District

Democrat Ben McAdams easily avoided a primary election on Saturday and begins his re-election bid with a leg up, as four Republican candidates are heading to the primary ballot.

Seven Republicans were vying to take on McAdams, but that number dropped on Saturday as State Rep. Kim Coleman won the convention vote to join former NFL player Burgess Owens, former radio host Jay McFarland and former Zions Bank executive Trent Christensen in the June primary. Owens won enough support from delegates to finish second in the convention and qualify for the primary, but he and the others had already punched their tickets through the signature route.

A 2News survey from Y2 Analytics suggests the 4th District Republican primary election will be a wide-open affair. Jay McFarland and Burgess Owens are the frontrunners with Coleman and Christensen lagging behind. However, Kathleen Anderson, Chris Biesinger and Cindy Thompson were eliminated at the convention, meaning it’s anybody’s race in June.

Whichever of these Republicans advances out of the June primary will have a Herculean task ahead of them as McAdams will likely have a massive cash advantage heading into the November general election. The most recent fundraising report shows McAdams is well funded with more than $2 million in the bank, while most of the challengers are struggling to keep up, and now have a potentially expensive primary to pay for.

But, the Republican nominee will have some advantages on their side, too. Utah’s 4th District is overwhelmingly Republican, and McAdams barely triumphed in 2018 when he ousted Mia Love in 2018.

Four-way GOP primary to replace Rob Bishop

A dozen Republicans jumped into the race in the 1st Congressional District to replace Rep. Rob Bishop who is retiring at the end of the year. That field was culled dramatically on Saturday as former Utah Agricultural Commissioner Kerry Gibson and former Utah State University football player Blake Moore finished in the top two at the GOP convention to advance to the June primary. They join Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson and Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt in the primary election, who used the signature route to qualify.

Democrats Darren Parry and Jamie Cheek both secured enough support at their convention to advance to the June primary election in CD2.

Stewart cruises to GOP nomination

2nd District Rep. Chris Stewart stomped his competition, rolling over three other Republicans to win the GOP nomination outright at the convention on Saturday. Stewart pulled in 71 percent of the delegate vote to triumph over Mary Burkett, Ty Jensen and Carson Jorgensen. 

Stewart will face Democrat Kael Weston in November. Weston defeated two Democratic challengers at the convention to win the nomination.

John Curtis advances

Rep. John Curtis easily avoided a primary in the 3rd Congressional District by capturing more than 68 percent of the vote against Tim Aalders. He will face off against Devin Thorpe who won the Democratic nomination over two opponents on Saturday. United Utah Party nominee Thomas McNeill and Daniel Cummings from the Constitution Party are also in the race.d

Reyes and Leavitt advance. Swallow eliminated

Former Attorney General John Swallow’s quixotic attempt to return to the office he resigned from was stopped cold on Saturday, as GOP delegates weren’t interested in what he was selling at all.

Swallow was quickly eliminated in the first round of voting on Saturday as current Attorney General Sean Reyes and Utah County attorney David Leavitt advanced to the June primary.

Swallow shocked the Utah political world when he filed as a candidate for Attorney General on the final day of the candidate declaration period. Swallow was forced from office in the wake of multiple scandals and investigations into widespread corruption in his office. A report from the House of Representatives concluded Swallow “hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign” on his office during his tenure.

A 2News poll showed Reyes with 54 percent support among likely Republican primary voters, while Leavitt had 31 percent.

Greg Skordas, who unsuccessfully ran for Attorney General in 2004, gets another shot at the office in 2020 as he easily defeated Kevin Probasco for the Democratic nomination on Saturday. The last Democrat to serve as Attorney General was Jan Graham in 1992.

Legislative races

Several top-ranking legislative incumbents were forced into a primary election on Saturday. 

  • Longtime Cache Valley Republican Sen. Lyle Hillyard will face newcomer Chris Wilson for the GOP nomination in SD 25 in the June primary election. 
  • Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, was narrowly forced into a primary in SD16. He’ll face Sylvia Andrew in June. The winner will be unopposed in November.
  • Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, the House chair of the powerful Executive Appropriations Committee, squares off against former State Party Chair Willie Billings in HD71.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, fended off a convention challenge from Marci Campbell to capture the party nomination. He now stands unopposed for another four-year term in November.