On Monday, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox agreed to join a two-hour primetime debate for the four Republican candidates for governor sponsored by KUTV 2News and the Pioneer Park Coalition
The debate, billed as a "first of its kind" primetime event, will take place on June 16 at 7 pm. Cox agreed to participate after initially declining two invitations from the television station.
The initial refusal by Cox to debate conjures up the 2016 GOP primary for governor when Gary Herbert repeatedly declined invitations to debate his opponent Jonathan Johnson. Johnson challenged Herbert to a half-dozen debates around the state prior to the Republican primary that year, but the two men only met on the debate stage one time.
Former Sen. Orrin Hatch also refused to debate Republican challenger Dan Liljenquist in 2012 before agreeing to one debate on the radio prior to the primary election. Liljenquist resorted to debating a cardboard cutout of Hatch.
Veteran GOP consultant Danny Laub, who most recently worked on Aimee Winder Newton’s campaign, says Cox appears to be playing it safe ahead of the June 30th primary.
“That’s the posture of someone who believes they’re in the lead by some margin,” said Laub. “f you are in the lead, you just have to hold onto the ball and play mistake-free baseball. Nobody has ever won a governors race at a debate, but plenty have lost them.”
Cox has a narrow lead over the rest of the field according to a UtahPolicy.com/KUTV 2News poll conducted by Y2 Analytics.
The 2News debate will feature one-on-one discussions with moderators Heidi Hatch and Rod Decker, followed by a more traditional debate where the candidates will have a free-flowing discussion of several topics.
The two-hour debate will air at 7 pm on KUTV 2News.
[Editor's note: This article has been updated with Cox agreeing to participate in the debate].