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Is it Huntsman or Cox?

Two days after election day we still don’t have a winner, and we may not know for a few more days. What is known is that this gubernatorial primary election is going to provide enough data fodder to keep amateur and professional political analysts busy for a long time trying to figure out what happened. 

Geography, late voting, newly-registered Republicans, and the multiplicity of candidates are all major factors in the way this race ultimately turns out.

A final tracking poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, obtained by UtahPolicy.com, showed a very close race right up to election day, with a plurality of late votes breaking for Huntsman. But whether it will be enough to provide a win over Cox depends on how big turnout is in the various counties where each candidate is strong.

It will also depend on Huntsman’s strength among the “new Republicans” who registered to vote in the primary.

The final days of tracking (June 27-30 with a 447-respondent sample size over the three days) showed Huntsman leading Cox 32-30 percent, well within the margin of error. The final day of tracking with 196 respondents had Huntsman up 35-28 percent.

Geographically, the tracking survey has Cox winning big in Utah and Davis counties, with Huntsman winning in Salt Lake and Weber. The outcome will be determined, in part, by how many voters turned out in those counties. Utah County has been a bit of a laggard in voting percentages in some recent elections.

Greg Hughes, who campaigned as a solid conservative and Trump champion, had 23 percent support in the final tracking numbers. He enjoyed strong support in many rural areas of the state, clearly cutting into Cox’s appeal to rural voters.

Having Hughes and Thomas Wright in the race was probably a benefit for Huntsman because they took away conservative votes that would otherwise have likely gone to Cox, not Huntsman.

The conventional wisdom among political analysts is that unprecedented numbers of unaffiliated voters and Democrats registered as Republicans to have a voice in this primary. And a strong plurality of them were expected to vote for Huntsman.  We don’t know if that will that be enough for him to win as the final votes are counted, but those votes clearly have given him a boost. Further analysis might show he owes his win to those crossover voters.

That could cut both ways for him. He could truly say he represents all Utahns, not just Republicans. But the Republican Legislature could pass measures to reduce or prevent future crossover voting.

Clearly, the 2020 season of pandemic is also going to go down in history as the season of a wild and crazy gubernatorial primary election.