Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Jonathan Johnson Has a Steep Hill to Climb

bernick mugGOP gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson had a good state Republican convention last Saturday.

The challenger to incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert, Johnson got 55 percent of the delegate vote to Herbert’s 45 percent.

To beat a popular incumbent in delegate support is quite an achievement.

But Johnson’s task in the nine-week primary campaign is now much more daunting.

Here are just a few of the numbers against Johnson (as measured by UtahPolicy’s pollster, Dan Jones & Associates, by far the most respected pollster in the state):

  • If the GOP closed primary were held today, 72 percent of Republican voters favor Herbert.
  • 13 percent like Johnson.
  • And 15 percent are undecided.

Remember, only a registered Republican can vote in the June 28 primary election, even though taxpayers across the state pay the $3 million primary election tab.

In January, the last time Jones measured top elected officials’ job performances, 77 percent of Utahns approved of the job Herbert was doing as governor.

Among only Republicans, 90 percent approved of Herbert’s job performance.

Both those numbers are stratospheric.

Entering the primary campaign – despite what GOP delegates may think – Herbert is doing very well with Republican primary voters and Utahns as a whole.

In pre-convention financial filings, Herbert has $783,000 in cash on hand, compared to Johnson’s $11,000.

Of course, as chairman of, a very successful internet online discount retailing firm, Johnson could put $1 million or more into his campaign.

If the polls don’t tighten, and tighten quickly, between the two men, we’ll be able to measure Johnson’s belief in his primary chances by watching how much money he himself puts into his race.

Already his boss at, Patrick Byrne, has donated $150,000 to Johnson this year.

Johnson’s primary task is enormous, money aside.

Back in 1988, in his re-election campaign then-Gov. Norm Bangerter was fighting against a myriad of troubles.

Utah was in recession, people out of work.

Bangerter had recommended in 1987 the largest tax increase in state history as he tried to put public education funding on firmer financial footing.

A citizen tax revolt – led by archconservatives and radio talk show types – sprung up.

In January of 1988, Dan Jones – polling for the Deseret News – found only 43 percent of Utahns approved of the job Bangerter was doing as governor.

A staggering 54 percent disapproved.

Bangerter went on to win the GOP nomination and in a very close election defeated Democrat Ted Wilson, 40-38 percent. With independent candidate Merrill Cook getting 21 percent of the vote.

Herbert is in much better political shape this year than Bangerter was back then.

Herbert has adequate funds to run an aggressive primary race (and considering no Democrat has won the governorship since 1980, the GOP primary is the de facto governor’s contest this year).

Herbert has a job approval rating of 77 percent among all Utahns, compared to Bangerter’s 43 percent back in 1988.

Johnson has to knock down Herbert’s approval ratings while closing a 59-point gap in the head-to-head match-ups among GOP primary voters.

Johnson does have the private funds to run a good primary race since donations likely wouldn’t be flowing in considering the polling numbers.

And, Johnson has last Saturday’s GOP convention bragging rights.

He can start radio and TV ads, online campaigning, by asking: “What do Republican delegates – the real grassroots of the party – see in Jonathan Johnson? And what do delegates see is lacking in Gary Herbert?”

Can Johnson use the delegate vote as a springboard to discrediting the governor?

For Johnson has only nine weeks.

And all the poll numbers – and Utah’s fine economy — are certainly in Herbert’s favor today.

If Johnson is to make a real primary run at Herbert he has to come out of the gate swinging, for certainly Johnson has his work cut out for him.