Former Gov. Jon Huntsman may be inching closer to launching a write-in campaign to return to the governor's mansion in the fall.
UtahPolicy.com reported Tuesday that efforts were underway by a group of supporters not connected to Huntsman’s gubernatorial campaign to test the waters for a potential write-in effort.
A source assisting with the potential write-in effort tells UtahPolicy.com that there is a “large group of supporters” currently “diving deep” into the feasibility of mounting, and more importantly winning, a write-in campaign.
A second source close to Huntsman tells UtahPolicy.com that a poll testing his viability as a write-in candidate was conducted by a third-party not connected to Huntsman or his campaign.
The poll results were described by the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as “very encouraging.”
“Someone with a lot of political ambition would look at the results and find them very tempting,” they said. “A lot of politicians would seriously consider taking the leap.”
Huntsman narrowly lost the GOP nomination to Spencer Cox by approximately 7,400 votes. A loss that close has got to sting, which is probably why Huntsman is open to a write-in campaign in the first place. It’s not easy to lose a high-profile race by so few ballots.
“In the universe of all registered voters in Utah, just 11 percent have selected the state’s governor for the next four or eight years,” said one source. “No Republican nominee has lost their re-election bid in recent history, so it’s safe to say that the winner of the Republican primary is in office for eight years, and that’s not a fair system.”
UtahPolicy.com has also learned that Huntsman’s supporters pushing for the write-in campaign have made contact with several political consultants to see if there is an appetite for taking on the long-shot write-in effort.
Sources say they’re still in the preliminary stages of deciding whether a write-in effort could work. There is currently no timeline for Huntsman to officially launch the effort, but he would have to declare as a write-in candidate by August 31.
Even though Cox is the GOP nominee, Huntsman supporters say they see a path for Huntsman to compete, and win in November. The path is extremely narrow, and Hunstman will have to avoid making any mistakes, but they believe it’s possible.
Huntsman’s supporters are currently gauging the appetite for a write-in campaign among voters and developing a strategy for how that would happen.
Normally a write-in campaign is a Sisyphean effort, but with Utah conducting elections via mail, it’s easier to get voters to write-in a name on a ballot rather than relying on them to do it when voting in person.
Needless to say, running as a write-in will take a massive amount of money as the campaign must make their case to voters and educate them on how to fill out the ballot for them.
One potential pitfall for any write-in campaign are ballots where the candidate’s name is misspelled. Does the name have to be spelled correctly, or will election officials take the voter’s intent into consideration? Huntsman’s backers say case law tells them that courts always rule in favor of the vote, but they have to be sure.
This year’s primary election saw record turnout, with voters casting more than 500,000 ballots. Those studying a write-in campaign believe November’s presidential election in Utah will be the same. They also think Huntsman has an advantage over Cox, as he has ties to both Republican President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Huntsman was Trump’s ambassador to Russia and maintains a good relationship with the president. He also served as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China and he knows Biden on a personal and professional level.
There’s also a belief that if Utah’s response to the coronavirus pandemic falters, it could damage Cox’s political position. It could also present an effective line of attack against Cox who was put in charge of the state’s early efforts to fight the virus. The number of cases in Utah are skyrocketing after Gov. Gary Herbert moved quickly to lift restrictions from the virus. Herbert warned Thursday if the average number of cases does not drop below 500 by the beginning of August, it could lead to the re-implementation of restrictions. Utah reported a record 867 cases on Friday.
State Auditor John Dougall is investigating hundreds of millions of dollars in controversial no-bid contracts awarded by the state during the initial response. His report is expected in the next few months.
Still, a write-in campaign is a very iffy proposition and has a low chance of succeeding. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the Republican nomination to Joe Miller in 2010. Miller was part of the right-wing Tea Party movement and was seen as an extreme choice by voters. Murkowski successfully defeated Miller in the general election as a write-in candidate by 4 percentage points.