UtahPolicy.com has learned that GOP Gov. Gary Herbert pressured Republican gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright to drop out of the June primary race and throw his support behind Spencer Cox, Herbert’s pick to succeed him in the state’s highest office.
Herbert and Wright have met at least twice in recent weeks. Five separate sources with knowledge of those discussions tell UtahPolicy.com Herbert first met with Wright following the GOP state convention where Wright finished 4th behind Spencer Cox and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes. The most recent meeting came just last week following the publication of a UtahPolicy.com/KUTV 2 News survey showing Wright in 4th place in the Republican primary race with only 6 percent support among likely Republican primary voters.
During both meetings, Herbert and Wright discussed whether Wright should get out of the governor’s race prior to the June 30th primary. UtahPolicy.com is also told that Herbert asked Wright to endorse Cox, and urged him to instead run for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination in 2022 against Mike Lee.
Wright gave UtahPolicy.com a non-denial denial when asked about his meetings with Gov. Herbert, saying only he’s been longtime friends with the governor and frequently talks with him. However, he vehemently denied he was considering dropping out of the contest.
“I have never considered dropping out of the race - when I start something, I finish it,” said Wright. “My internal numbers are different than those that have recently been published. I believe the voters are ready for a new perspective, not a professional politician, and someone with executive business experience and that there is a pathway to victory. I'm in the race to win it. "
The new Y2 Analytics survey showed Wright, a former Utah Republican Party chairman, with just 6 percent support among likely Republican primary voters. It’s unlikely Wright, and his running mate Rob Bishop, are in a position to win the party’s nomination with just 5 weeks remaining before the GOP primary.
Herbert is supporting Cox, his current Lieutenant Governor, and formally endorsed him just days ago. That was no surprise as Herbert previously donated $50,000 to Cox’s campaign.
Herbert, through his chief of staff Justin Harding, would not comment on his meetings with Wright. Harding says the governor often has “private” meetings with all kinds of folks. Harding did confirm that Herbert did meet with Wright recently “over milkshakes,” but the governor declined to speak about any private meeting with Wright or anyone else. “Those are private meetings and topics will not be shared,” said Harding.
If Wright were to suspend his campaign for governor and endorse Cox, it could have an enormous impact on the governor’s race. The most recent survey from Y2 Analytics shows Cox ahead of former Gov. Jon Huntsman by 7 percentage points, 39-32 percent. Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes is in third place at 23 percent, with Wright, as mentioned above, at 6 percent.
The contest between Cox and Huntsman has not moved much. Y2 Analytics polling since December has shown Cox with a consistent lead followed by Huntsman. Hughes has picked up momentum as other GOP candidates dropped out of the race or were eliminated in the mid-April GOP state convention.
It’s almost certain that no candidate will get more than 50 percent of the June 30th primary vote. In fact, with four candidates remaining in the race, the Republican Party nominee could win with just 35 percent of the vote or less.
So, if Wright were to get out of the race and throw his support behind Cox, gaining a few percentage points in support from potential Wright voters would be a significant boost to Cox’s campaign. It might even prove to be determinative in a close contest.
It’s not a stretch to think that Wright could be a player in Utah politics in the future. While polling shows he’s a longshot to win the Republican primary this year, this campaign has shown his ability to raise money, and the name ID he’s building could be a boost to his electoral chances should make him a strong contender in any future political campaigns.
Spencer Cox's campaign declined to comment for this story.