SALT LAKE CITY – Die-hard supporters of Jon M. Huntsman Jr. are predicting that the former governor will announce whether he will attempt to reclaim the governor’s mansion as a write-in candidate by Aug. 31.
Since the GOP primary balloting June 30, Huntsman has publicly stated that he will not pursue his former office as a write-in candidate in the November general election.
On the other hand, he has done nothing to discourage supporters who are promoting his continued candidacy via social media and some exploratory statewide polling.
The write-in effort began with two separate groups. The first was Republican insurgents who were disgruntled by the results of the GOP primary. The second was an independent pro-Huntsman initiative called “Draft Jon” that evolved on Facebook. The two groups have now merged and are reportedly holding meetings to discuss the strategy and logistics for a write-in campaign.
The Huntsman supporters believe that a write-in campaign has at least a chance of success due to a number of factors.
The first of those is the narrow margin of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’ victory over Huntsman in the GOP primary. After more than 500,000 ballots were counted, the candidates’ vote tallies were separated by just 1.2 percent.
Moreover, Cox won the GOP gubernatorial nomination with just 36.15 percent of the vote.
Recent polling by the Hinckley Institute of Politics for the Deseret News revealed that nearly half of Utah voters believe that state law should be changed to provide a run-off election if no candidate receives a majority of ballots in a statewide primary.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen surveyed 1,000 registered voters during the period of July 27 to Aug.1. A total of 49 percent of survey respondents favored a run-off election if primary results did not give any candidate a clear majority, while 25 percent opposed that idea and 26 percent had no opinion.
The Huntsman supporters also argue that Cox’s performance as a gubernatorial nominee since winning the primary has been “underwhelming.”
Since July, Cox has been largely absent from the campaign trail, presumably resting on his laurels until after Labor Day. Although he heads the Utah COVID-19 Task Force, Cox has dodged the question of whether a statewide mask mandate should be imposed. Cox also declined an early opportunity to debate Democratic challenger Chris Peterson of Salt Lake City.
The former governor’s supporters are also encouraged by Huntsman’s strong appeal to moderate crossover voters in the June 30 balloting, when thousands of Democrats and independents registered as Republicans to vote for him in the closed GOP primary.
Finally, the write-in advocates see a good sign in the fact that state financial disclosures indicate that the Huntsman campaign has continued to raise money since the primary, including a $600,000 contribution from Karen Huntsman, the former governor’s mother.
While the write-in effort continues to build momentum, Huntsman’s supporters admit that they have not yet met with the former governor.
Under Utah election laws, write-in votes can only be counted for candidates who have officially filed to run that way. The filing deadline for the November general election is Aug. 31.
No individual or group can file in lieu of a write-in candidate.