Herbert confirms he asked Wright to drop out, but denies any deal

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Gov. Gary Herbert confirmed the story, first reported by UtahPolicy.com, that he asked former Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright to drop out of the Republican race for governor and endorse Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Herbert’s chosen successor. But Herbert denied he offered financial or political support for a future campaign.

We first reported on Tuesday that Herbert twice met with Wright to ask that he withdraw from the hotly contested race and endorse Cox. Herbert also encouraged Wright to challenge Sen. Mike Lee in 2022 instead.

Herbert confirmed the report on Thursday.

“He didn’t do as well during the convention, and his poll numbers were down,” said Herbert. “So I took that opportunity to talk to him and suggest that he should consider supporting Spencer Cox for governor.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Thursday morning, citing unnamed sources, that Herbert offered support for Wright if he were to challenge Sen. Lee in 2022.

Herbert denied that he offered any inducement for Wright to quit the race. 

“There is no deal that’s been made,” said Herbert.

Herbert asking Wright to drop out has prompted comparisons with the Mark Walker scandal. In 2008, Walker, a former Utah State Representative, was facing off against Richard Ellis in the Utah GOP primary for treasurer. Walker essentially offered Ellis a bribe to drop out of the race, enticing him with a job as Walker’s deputy and a $56,000 pay raise. Ellis eventually won that contest and Walker plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who prosecuted the Walker case, was asked if he had any plans to investigate whether Herbert may have offered Wright an improper inducement to drop out since the incident took place in his jurisdiction.

“Right now, this is just political speculation,” said Gill. “Unless someone files a complaint and brings forth evidence, there’s nothing for us to investigate.”

Wright finished in fourth place at the recent Utah GOP convention but qualified for the primary race by gathering signatures. Y2 Analytics polling for UtahPolicy.com and KUTV 2News puts Wright in 4th place behind Cox, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes.

Herbert, who has endorsed Cox in the race, said he first asked Wright last year to support Cox, but Wright declined, saying he planned to also run.

Wright would not comment on his conversations with the governor but said he had no intention of quitting.