Analysis: Cox, Huntsman and Hughes all have very different paths to victory on Tuesday

20200601 GOV Debate

Tuesday is primary election day in Utah, likely one of the most interesting in a generation — with four GOP candidates each in an open governor’s race, an open 1st Congressional District race and a 4th Congressional District race where GOP leaders deeply desire to reclaim the seat from the Democratic Party.

There’s little doubt that whatever the outcome in any of these three contests, the end result in the Republican-controlled Legislature — and for the new governor, whom almost assuredly will be a Republican — will be changing how Utahns register to vote by party, maybe even pushing elections into Ranked Choice Voting or a primary runoff system.

In any case, it’s also likely that none of these three multi-candidate closed GOP primary elections will see a winner with more than 50 percent of the vote — and the highly-contested governor’s race could see a winner with less than 40 percent of the vote.

Let’s take a deep-dive into the latest 2News governor’s race by breaking out and analyzing some Y2 Analytics demographic data:

One thing is very clear — former Gov. Jon Huntsman’s chances of winning this race over Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes hinges on the Huntsman campaign getting the lion’s share of votes from formerly independent and/or Democratic voters who are registered as Republicans in order to vote in this gubernatorial election.

As reported previously, Y2 finds that among CURRENTLY registered Republicans likely to vote in the primary Cox leads Huntsman 34-30 percent, with Hughes coming in third with 28 percent. Thomas Wright, in all of the polling and demographics, comes in a distant 4th, and is basically out of the running.

With Y2’s margin of error at plus-or-minus 3.9 percent, it means any of the top three could win when final vote counts come in, as far off as three weeks in this mostly-mail-in balloting this year.

But when you consider those who told Y2 that they are “lean” independent Republicans likely to register as Republicans and vote in this primary, Huntsman gets 58 percent of that vote compared to Cox’s 26 percent. Hughes is way down at 12 percent among that group.

Last week, media reported that over the last month, 43,000 independent voters had registered to vote in the GOP primary — clearly a record number. Around 8,000 or so Democrats had done so, joined the GOP to vote in the closed primary.

If these folks break 58-26 percent for Huntsman, it could be decisive. But will they actually vote? Will they vote 2-to-1 for Huntsman?

Here are a whole bunch of Y2 polling demographic numbers to watch:

Among men who are already registered Republicans and plan to vote in the primary, Cox is beating Huntsman, 41-32 percent. Not good news for the former governor who wants his old job back.

Among GOP women Cox leads Huntsman, 38-33 percent.

Huntsman gets stomped among those GOP voters who said they are “strong” Republicans, Cox 34 percent, Huntsman only 17 percent. Hughes, who is running to the right and hugging GOP President Donald Trump, is actually ahead among this group, with 37 percent.

Hughes wins among those who said they are “very” conservative, with 49 percent of their vote, Cox at 27 percent and Huntsman trailing with only 12 percent of that vote.

But among those who said they are registered in the GOP, likely to vote, and are moderates — admittedly a minority — Huntsman gets 52 percent of that vote, Cox 33 percent, with Hughes only 9 percent.

Finally, among the GOP who said they are “very active” in their LDS faith — folks likely to vote — Cox gets 45 percent of that vote, Huntsman 24 percent and Hughes 23 percent.

Now, all three men are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Huntsman’s late grandfather, David B. Haight, was a member of The Quorum of the Twelve, which leads the international church.

But, if you recall, when he ran for the GOP nomination for president, Huntsman was wishy-washy once about his LDS faith, although he quickly clarified that he was good Mormon and served an LDS mission as a young man.

How much does Huntsman need these new GOP votes who may be coming into the Republican Party this primary?

Not only does he get 58 percent of their vote, he gets 55 percent of those men, he gets 65 percent of those women’s vote — huge numbers.

Hey, among those new GOP voters who told Y2 they consider themselves “strong” Republicans — even though they hadn’t been registered as Republicans before — Huntsman gets 35 percent of that vote, Cox only 29 percent, and Hughes just 14 percent.

The pathway to victory Tuesday for the three top GOP gubernatorial contenders?

Hughes has to hope that not many of these new GOP voters actually cast a ballot. He needs arch-conservative GOP voters to stick with him, and Cox and Huntsman to split the other GOP mainstream voters, letting Hughes sneak in for a very close victory.

Cox needs his voters — who have dwindled just a bit in recent polling — to stick with him, get out there and cast a GOP ballot.

Huntsman needs most of these new GOP voters — the plus-43,000 — to vote 2-to-1 for him over Cox.

Without them, Huntsman will see the current lieutenant governor become the governor after the November general election.

The above poll numbers show Cox the way, or Hughes the way, or Huntsman the way, depending on how they all break.

One thing is likely — the ultimate winner Tuesday will be the next Utah governor, even if most GOP primary voters actually wanted someone else.