Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox forged a 2.77 percent lead over Jon Huntsman after the first wave of results in Tuesday’s Utah primary elections, but the race is far from over, as election officials say there could be as many as 100,000 ballots outstanding.
Republicans also tapped former NFL player Burgess Owens to take on Democrat Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, while the GOP primary to replace the retiring Rob Bishop looks to be nip and tuck for the next few weeks.
Utah Republicans also dumped Sen. Lyle Hillyard, who has been a fixture in the Utah Legislature since 1980.
In the Republican governor’s primary, just over 10,000 votes separate Cox and Huntsman as counting will continue over the next few weeks. Former House Speaker Greg Hughes and ex-GOP chairman Thomas Wright were too far behind on Tuesday to make up the gap.
That gap means neither campaign can reasonably spike the football as counting could continue well into next week, or even beyond.
Election officials say they expect a high turnout for the vote-by-mail election. On Tuesday, state elections officials said they had received more than 390,000 ballots so far, which is about 23 percent of active voters. That’s still behind the 336,792 votes cast in the 2018 GOP Senate primary between Mitt Romney and State Rep. Mike Kennedy.
Earlier on Tuesday, Cox said there could be as many as 100,000 ballots still to count after Tuesday night’s initial release of data. We won’t know that for a few days as the deadline for a postmark was on election day instead of the day before, a concession lawmakers made in April because of the disruption from the coronavirus.
If turnout does climb, that could favor Huntsman, who made a concerted effort to expand the GOP electorate by encouraging independent voters (and even some Democrats) to register as Republicans to cast a ballot for him. Those voters, who probably haven’t followed the race as closely as more hardcore Republicans in the state, would likely break toward Huntsman in significant numbers. If that happens, he could be in good shape.
“A high turnout would probably favor us,” said Huntsman. “I can’t base that on any mathematics, but my guess is it brings out a diverse base which we’ve always considered part of our natural base.”
Huntsman led Cox by nearly 13 percentage points in Salt Lake County. Cox flipped that by racking up a 17-point lead over Huntsman in the GOP stronghold of Utah County. However, Cox only netted 231 more votes than Huntsman between the two counties. Salt Lake County has more Republican voters than Utah County, so it stands to reason if a large number of the remaining ballots to be counted come from there, it could help Huntsman narrow the gap.
Expect the race to close as the new ballots come in.
4th Congressional District
Now that the GOP governor’s race is in the books, the attention will shift to the 4th Congressional District, where former NFL player Burgess Owens has grabbed the Republican nomination to face Ben McAdams, Utah’s lone Democrat in Congress.
Owens reeled in more than 43 percent of the vote over State Rep. Kim Coleman, former radio host Jay McFarland and businessman Trent Christensen.
Owens will need to start raising cash and fast. McAdams is sitting on a massive campaign war chest of more than $2.3 million, while Owens had just over $111,000 heading into the home stretch before the primary election.
Utah’s 4th District was the worst performing for Trump during the 2016 election as he only got 39 percent of the vote there against Hillary Clinton and Evan McMullin, and we could see the same dynamic at play in November. Recent UtahPolicy.com polling shows Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 4th District by a 43-38 percent margin. 56 percent of 4th District voters also say they disapprove of Trump’s job performance.
1st Congressional District
Former State Department employee and businessman Blake Moore was clinging to a razor-thin 576 vote lead over Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson in the Republican primary in the 1st Congressional District Republican primary. Former state legislator and Utah Agriculture Commissioner Kerry Gibson was also barely within striking distance after Tuesday night’s results, sitting about 6,200 votes off the lead. Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt was left far behind in fourth place.
The Republican winner will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Darren Parry and Jamie Cheek. Parry opened up an 857 vote lead after Tuesday’s results.
The winner of the GOP primary in the 1st District will be a massive favorite to win in November, as the Northern Utah seat is one of the most Republican in the nation, enjoying a +26 Republican advantage.
Attorney General Sean Reyes looks to be on track to capture the GOP nomination. He leads Utah County Attorney David Leavitt by nearly 9 points after Tuesday’s tally.
Their primary election went sharply negative in the final weeks of the campaign, as each candidate accused the other of corruption.
Reyes will face Democrat Greg Skordas in November.
In one of the most surprising results of the night, Sen. Lyle Hillard, R-Logan, was losing by an incredible 24 points to challenger Chris Wilson.
Hillyard was one of the chairmen of the failed tax reform process from last summer, which drew massive public opposition.
Hillyard was first elected to the Utah House in 1979.
Rep. Brad Last, who is the House Chair of the legislature’s top budget committee, eked out a slim 506 vote lead over challenger Willie Billings in State House District 71.
Logan Republican incumbent Rep. Val Potter was trailing challenger Mike Petersen by just over 750 votes on Tuesday evening. Potter was first elected to the Utah House in 2016.
Four-term Republican Keven Stratton is locked in a tight battle against David Shallenberger for the House District 48 seat. Stratton was ahead by just 69 votes on Tuesday.
Retired General Jefferson Burton cruised to an easy win over Woodland Hills City Councilwoman Kari Malkovich in the House District 66 primary. He will be running unopposed in November.
Republican Mike Kohler easily won the primary in House District 54. That seat is being vacated by Rep. Tim Quinn who is retiring from the legislature this year.
Fewer than 800 votes separate Steven Lund and Clinton Painter in the GOP primary for House District 58. That seat was occupied by Derrin Owens, who is running for the Utah State Senate this year.
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore is in a close race in his primary rematch against former Utah State Rep. Rich Cunningham. FIlmore has a 630 vote lead after the first night of counting.
Incumbent Sen. Wayne Harper is leading Karen Hyatt by just over 500 votes in their Senate District 6 primary.
Jordan Teuscher holds a healthy lead over Aaron Starks in the GOP primary to replace Kim Coleman in the Utah House, while John Johnson is comfortably ahead of Johnny Ferry in the Senate 19 primary for the seat being vacated by Allen Christensen.
Republican incumbents Karianne Lisonbee, Stewart Barlow,Steve Christiansen, Kay Christofferson, Marsha Judkins and Curt Bramble all appeared to have fended off primary challenges on Tuesday.
Democrat Fatima Dirie leads Ofa Matagi by fewer than 300 votes in their Salt Lake County primary election. The winner will take on Republican Craig Hall in November.
There will be daily updates on the voting numbers beginning at 3 pm on Wednesday.