Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes will run for governor next year, seeking the GOP nomination in what could become a crowded field, sources close to Hughes told UtahPolicy.com on Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has already announced his gubernatorial run for the open seat being vacated by retiring GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
Hughes has been meeting folks for months and soliciting “firm” commitments on donations for his run – so the confirmation UtahPolicy.com got Wednesday is not a huge surprise.
Still, there were rumors out there that Hughes may decide to run for the 4th congressional district against Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams next year, especially should former Utah GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. decide to return to Utah and make a new attempt for his former office.
In addition, Greg Hartley, Hughes’ close advisor for several years and served as Hughes’ chief of staff in the House during the four years Hughes was speaker, is also going to run the Hughes For Governor campaign.
That, too, was expected, as Hartley announced several weeks ago that he would soon leave as Speaker Brad Wilson’s chief of staff to take on “other opportunities” – not detailed until now.
Sources say that Hughes has “firm” financial commitments “north of $1 million,” maybe around “1.3 million.”
It will take at least that amount to make a serious run at the governorship in 2020. Herbert spent more than that back in 2016 without any real opposition within the Republican Party or from Democratic challenges.
While Hughes has done well with his partner in an apartment ownership/leasing business, he is not independently wealthy, nor will Hughes have access to the “big” political war chest of Herbert – who has around $500,000 in his governor’s PAC, all of which can be given to Cox, who Herbert will of course back next year.
Utah has no donation or spending limits in statewide and legislative campaigns.
Cox has taken this week off from his official state duties and is driving around the state with his wife visiting many of the state’s cities and towns.
Cox says he will visit all local governments before the end of his campaign.
Sources said Hughes would likely officially declare late summer and then start a full-time campaign.
Hughes will gather signatures and take the caucus/delegate/convention route to the GOP primary ballot, as allowed under SB54.
While Hughes voted for the SB54 compromise bill back in 2014, since then he has been critical of parts of the legislation, especially the lack of any primary runoff provision should a crowded primary field not yield a clear winner.
There could be 10 or more GOP gubernatorial candidates next year – with Hughes, Cox and Huntsman leading the early contest should Huntsman decide to come back from his Russian ambassadorship and enter Utah politics again.
That is still unclear, but after UtahPolicy.com first reported earlier this year that Huntsman was reportedly seriously considering such a return, no one from the Huntsman camp has come out to deny the former governor is at least considering the move.
While Hughes has support from Capitol Hill insiders and delegates, he is not well-known among Utahns in general, or even rank-and-file GOP voters.
In short, he has to get his name I.D. up – and it will take considerable money to do that.
On a much smaller note, Hughes and former Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis are co-hosts of a KUTV Channel 2 political news commentary show and podcast.
This week is the filing deadline for the Salt Lake City mayor’s race, a contest Dabakis has already declared for.
KUTV told UtahPolicy.com that Dabakis will be taking some time off from the program to focus on his election. Hughes will continue as co-host.
Sources close to Hughes said he likely wouldn’t have to leave the TV show until next January when the law says signature-gathering candidates must declare their intentions of going that route to the primary.
One alternative is to do away with the broadcast version of the show and only have an audio podcast, which wouldn’t be subject to the same FCC/TV rules, UtahPolicy.com is told.
Hughes and other statewide candidates will have to gather 28,000 voter signatures to make the primary ballot – and for GOP candidates those must come from registered Republican voters, since Republicans hold a closed primary.