Spencer Cox defeats Jon Huntsman in Utah GOP governor primary

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox fended off former Gov. Jon Huntsman in the Republican primary race to succeed Gov. Gary Herbert, delivering a blow to one of the state’s most prominent political heavyweights. 

Cox prevailed in a crowded June 30 Republican primary with 36.4 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. Huntsman received 34.6 percent of the vote.

Utah conducts its elections entirely by mail, but in response to the coronavirus pandemic, state officials accepted mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day, leading to a nearly weeklong delay in the primary results.


A former state representative, Cox has served as Utah's lieutenant governor under Herbert since 2013. Cox’s win makes him the favorite to replace the retiring Herbert, who endorsed his lieutenant governor ahead of the primary. The state last elected a Democratic governor in 1980.

Polls had indicated a tight race between Cox and Huntsman ahead of their primary. Huntsman had previously served in the Utah governor’s mansion from 2005 until 2009, but he stepped down months after being sworn into a second term to become the U.S. ambassador to China under then-President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team The Memo: Biden looks for way to win back deflated Black voters 6 in 10 say they would back someone other than Biden in 2024: Fox News poll MORE

Cox, meanwhile, benefited in his gubernatorial bid from the power of incumbency and the crucial role he played in leading Utah’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Huntsman’s defeat was a blow to a political heavyweight who once seemed invincible in Utah. He won his 2008 reelection bid in the state with nearly 78 percent of the vote and has racked up decades of experience in public service. He also ran for president in 2012.

But Huntsman also represents a brand of politician that has become increasingly rare in the intensely polarized political climate of 2020. He has served in every presidential administration since that of former President Reagan and has cultivated a reputation as a relative moderate. 

At the same time, Huntsman’s family name is well known in Utah. His father, Jon Huntsman Sr., a prominent businessman and political leader who chaired Reagan’s 1984 presidential campaign in Utah and undertook a short-lived bid for the governor’s mansion in 1988. The older Huntsman died in 2018. 

Huntsman’s brother Peter is the current owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune. 

Updated at 6:47 p.m.