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Expect Utah's 2020 Gubernatorial Campaigns To Ramp Up Soon

Photo of the Utah Governor's Mansion in Salt Lake City.
Wikimedia Commons

This story has been corrected

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer and the unofficial start of campaign season ahead of big election years — and 2020 will be a huge one.

Utahns will elect a new governor next year, along with state and federal lawmakers, school board representatives and some county officials.

While only one big-name candidate, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, has made his gubernatorial bid official, several other potential candidates are waiting in the wings. They include former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Utah County investor Jeff Burningham, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, Congressman Rob Bishop, businessman Greg Miller and Spencer P. Eccles, who has served as director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Cox campaign spokesman Austin Cox said the lieutenant governor has already visited 129 of the state’s cities and towns.

“Our campaign remains focused on each Utah voter in every community,” Cox said. “His unique outreach is resonating, and the campaign has received a record number of grassroots donations. We're confident Lt. Governor Cox's conservative vision for Utah will continue to be well received as other candidates enter the race.”

Cox has gotten a head start on campaigning and has been traveling the state in his big tractor-green bus this summer with a goal to visit all 248 cities and towns in Utah. That’s also given him a jump on fundraising. The lieutenant governor has raised more than $328,000, which includes hundreds of small donations under $500. 

While some gubernatorial hopefuls have been more open about their plans than others, expect many of them to jump into the race soon, said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

“It’s just a big calculation the candidates are going through. I expect between now and the end of September, we’re going to see most of those candidates stake a claim,” he said.

“Just because they haven’t announced does not mean they have not been working very hard on their campaigns,” Perry said. “When they do, there will be detailed plans, everything from how they’re going to handle the economy, to the air, to transportation.”

Such a crowded field in 2020 could pose some tough decisions for “the influencers in the state” when it comes to picking sides, Perry said, “particularly when they have to choose between really good friends or people they have supported in the past.” For example, Miller is the son of prominent businesswoman Gail Miller, Perry pointed out, and Scott Anderson, CEO of Zions Bank, has supported Huntsman and the Herbert-Cox administration. 

Huntsman is set to return to Utah in October following a two-year stint in Moscow as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. He, Miller and Eccles could draw on personal wealth to help fund their campaigns, while other potential candidates have been actively fundraising.

Financial disclosures show that Burningham has raised just over $585,000, including more than $100,000 in loans from himself. Burningham, an entrepreneur who founded capital investment firm Peak Ventures, has spent the summer touring the state ahead of an expected campaign launch. 

Hughes has also been fundraising: his PAC has pulled in more than $180,000 in mostly high-dollar donations, with a median gift of $25,000 from donors including philanthropist Kem Gardner and Mike Schultz, a top Republican in the Utah House who worked alongside Hughes during his speakership. 

A political action committee managed by Winder Newton and her brother, state Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, has raised more than $2,000 this summer, with a recent gift from state Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, who recently launched a bid for the congressional seat in Utah’s 4th District.

Two other longshot candidates have also launched bids. Zachary Moses is running as a Democrat and told the Salt Lake Tribune about his ideasfor replenishing water on the Salt Flats using a system of aqueducts and pumps and building a spaceport where the state is currently planning an inland trading port. He also said he is running to break up Republican control of the state. 

Perennial candidate Jason Christensen has also launched a gubernatorial bid. Christensen has previously served as state chairman of the far-right Independent American Party. His campaign website urges voters to “drain the Utah swamp.”

Moses gave his campaign $100, but neither candidate has reported other donations. 

Correction 2:42 p.m. MDT 9/5/19: A previous version of this story stated that Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox is the only candidate to declare candidacy in the Utah Gubernatorial race. Jason Christensen and Zachary Moses have also declared candidacy.
Correction: 11:30 a.m. MDT 9/2/19: A previous version of this story stated that Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, donated to a PAC owned by Aimee Winder Newton. It was a private citizen, not the state lawmaker, who donated.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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