SALT LAKE CITY — Surprising almost no one, Gov. Gary Herbert has endorsed Lt. Gov. Spenser Cox as his pick in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Herbert called Cox a proven leader and true conservative, praising the lieutenant governor’s “judgment and vision, especially in challenging times.”
Herbert’s endorsement of Cox on May 20 is generally seen as a disappointment for the campaign for former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and a challenge to another gubernatorial rival, former Utah House speaker Greg Hughes.
Some political observers had wondered where the outgoing governor would place his loyalty, given that Herbert had served as Huntsman’s lieutenant governor prior to the former governor’s resignation in 2009.
Others were confident that Cox would ultimately get Herbert’s nod. Any other outcome would have indicated a lack of trust in Cox’s abilities, calling into question the governor’s earlier appointment of Cox to head the state’s COVID-19 Task Force.
Herbert’s specific praise of Cox’s ability to cope with “challenging times” was undoubtedly intended as a rebuke to Hughes, who has been vocally critical of the lieutenant governor’s leadership of the state task force and of Utah’s slow progress toward economic recovery from the coronavirus outbreak.
Four gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot for the Republican primary on June 30. They are Cox, Hughes, Huntsman and former GOP state chairman Thomas Wright.