Utah County and rural Utah may put Spencer Cox over the top in the GOP race for governor

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Spencer Cox’s relentless campaign messaging about him being the only “rural” candidate in the race seemingly paid off and may have given him enough votes to claim the GOP nomination for governor. 

Cox leads Huntsman by just under 11,000 votes with another release of ballots scheduled for Monday afternoon.

It appears increasingly unlikely that Huntsman will be able to make up that difference. Sources close to Huntsman’s campaign acknowledged that his chances are beginning to fade. If the gap between Cox and Huntsman had narrowed to 1-2 percent last week, they would have a chance to prevail, but with the gap nearer to 3 percent, that task will be much more difficult. 

Huntsman has not made a public statement since Tuesday night’s election.

A county-by-county breakdown of the vote from Decision Desk HQ shows Cox is ahead in 13 of Utah’s 29 counties, mostly in the rural areas in central and western Utah. Cox also creamed Jon Huntsman in Utah County.

Huntsman carried just 6 of Utah’s counties, including Salt Lake, Summit and Weber The heavy population density in those areas is likely keeping him close in the final count. But Huntsman likely needed to pull more votes out of Salt Lake County to win. Dropping Davis County to Cox probably hurt his chances to win significantly.

Greg Hughes carried 9 counties, including almost all of Southern Utah except for Garfield County, which went to Cox. Hughes’ campaign was betting heavily on a big turnout from conservative voters and winning big in the rural areas of the state. 

Utah County is probably the primary reason that Cox will end up winning the race. Sources close to Huntsman’s campaign said that Huntsman leaving office in 2009 to become the Ambassador to China under President Obama hurt him significantly there, as well as the perception he is no longer a faithful member of the LDS Church. Cox’s strong volunteer base in Utah County was able to effectively leverage those issues against him.

“That just killed him on that,” said one source who asked to not be identified because they were not authorized to speak on the record. They said Huntsman could not afford to lose Utah County to Cox by more than 7 or 8 percentage points. Cox currently leads by nearly 17 points. 

Both Huntsman and Cox picked running mates from Utah County, where nearly 1/5th of the GOP electorate resides, but those choices probably didn’t factor much into the result. 

Cox’s campaign believes they benefitted from a geographical diversity of support, performing well in counties along the Wasatch Front as well as rural Utah. Cox was able to keep Huntsman’s margin of victory down in Salt Lake County while racking up wins in rural areas. 

Cox crushed the rest of the field in his home county of Sanpete, where he reeled in 67 percent of the vote. Cox commutes from his hometown to Salt Lake City every weekday.

Cox’s team also feels they were able to pull in votes from both conservatives and moderates on Tuesday, which is key since they were battling Hughes and Wright for the conservative vote and Huntsman for moderates. 

Thomas Wright’s campaign hoped that picking retiring Rep. Rob Bishop, who was familiar to voters in Northern Utah would give him a boost with voters who are familiar with Bishop. That didn’t pan out, as he finished a distant fourth, without carrying any counties. That strategy did not play out as he currently sits in 4th place in every county. His best showing was Box Elder, where he picked up 17.5 percent.