UtahPolicy.com has learned supporters of Jon Huntsman are testing the waters for a potential write-in candidacy by Huntsman in November.
Current Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was declared the winner of the GOP primary on Monday. He currently leads Huntsman by just over 7,300 votes or 1.4 percentage points. Huntsman conceded the race to Cox on Monday afternoon.
Sources tell UtahPolicy.com that discussions about the possible write-in effort began last week after Huntsman was in second place behind Cox following the initial vote count. Those talks are focused on securing support for a Huntsman write-in bid from Greg Hughes and Thomas Wright, the other Republicans Cox defeated in the race.
A source close to Greg Hughes’ campaign said Huntsman backers reached out to his camp last week to see if they would back an effort to write-in Huntsman for governor in November. There was also a brief discussion about whether Hughes would consider becoming Huntsman’s running mate for the write-in effort.
A spokesperson for Hughes’ campaign tells UtahPolicy.com that the former House Speaker would not support a write-in campaign and that Hughes plans to support the GOP nominee for governor.
Thomas Wright was unavailable for comment, but a source close to his campaign confirmed that the former GOP chairman had also been approached by Huntsman supporters seeking his support for a Huntsman write-in campaign.
In addition to the backchannel communication with the other Republican candidates, there is evidence that the write-in effort may be much more serious.
On Monday, Spencer Durrant posted on Twitter that he had been the recipient of a telephone poll asking several questions about a possible Huntsman write-in bid for governor.
Just got an interesting phone call from a polling agency, re: Utah’s gubernatorial election.
“If the general election were held today, would you vote for Spencer Cox or write-in candidate Jon Hunstman?”
“They asked ‘If the Utah general election were held today, who would you vote for? Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox, or write-in candidate Jon Huntsman’?” Durrant told UtahPolicy.com.
“They asked a few versions of that question, including one where they asked if I would vote for Huntsman if he had a different running mate,” he added. Durrant said the possible alternate running mates mentioned in the poll included Hughes, Victor Iverson and Rob Bishop. Iverson and Bishop were the Lt. Gov. candidates for Hughes and Wright.
Other questions focused on whether Utah should have a runoff election in the primaries because Cox won the nomination with a plurality of the vote and whether he would be inclined to vote for the Democratic candidate because Huntsman was disadvantaged in the election because he contracted coronavirus.
Durrant says he does not know who paid for the poll, but they did not identify the survey as coming from any particular candidate.
A spokesperson for Huntsman’s campaign told UtahPolicy.com that they were not responsible for the polling nor were they discussing a possible write-in candidacy.
A write-in candidacy would be a daunting and expensive proposition. But, it may not be completely out of the question with Utah’s vote-by-mail elections, which could make mounting such an effort a little easier since voters don’t have to vote in person.
The last serious write-in candidacy in Utah came in 2004 when Ellis Ivory mounted a write-in bid for Salt Lake County Mayor after incumbent Mayor Nancy Workman dropped out of the race after winning the GOP nomination. Ivory later was able to replace Workman on the ballot, but he lost to Peter Corroon.
That’s not to say that a write-in cannot be successful. In 2010, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP nomination to Joe Miller. Murkowski launched a write-in bid and defeated Miller by 4 percentage points to become the first U.S. Senate candidate to win via write-in since Strom Thurmond in 1954.