SALT LAKE CITY — The United Utah Party is calling for an investigation into a conversation between Gov. Gary Herbert and gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright, just over a month before the Republican Party primary June 30.
In the conversation, the governor acknowledged he asked Wright to step aside and support his successor Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox for the nomination. However, Gov. Herbert says no official deal was ever made.
United Utah Party says a promise was made
Now, the United Utah Party says they believe the conversation may have also included a promise from the governor to assist Wright in a campaign against Sen. Mike Lee in 2022. Neither the governor or any other officials has confirmed this claim. It’s against the law for someone to offer an incentive to a candidate to drop out of a race — which is why the United Utah Party wants an investigation.
“The United Utah Party calls on the Attorney General to open an investigation regarding this potential violation of the law,” the party said in a statement. “That investigation should examine whether an inducement was offered by the governor.”
Governor Herbert refutes claims made by United Utah Party
During the daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Gov. Herbert said he did not offer inducements or an incentive of any kind for Wright to drop out of the race. The governor also said he does not believe he exposed himself to a possible violation of state law.
The governor said he initially approached Wright last year suggesting Wright support Lt. Gov. Cox in the upcoming election. However, Wright decided to run on his own ticket for governor.
After the state GOP Convention April 25, placing Wright in fourth place, the governor said he approached Wright again — as a friend — to suggest stepping aside and supporting Cox. This kind of endorsement is not untypical, Gov. Herbert said.
“We’ve seen that this year with the presidential campaign, its not a untypical thing,” he said. “As the field gets narrower, people start endorsing people who maybe have a better chance of winning.”
Governor’s chief of staff denies United Utah Party allegation
However, gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright told the Deseret News in an interview that not only did the two talk about an upcoming Senate election against incumbent Mike Lee, but he said the governor also suggested Cox’s supporters would back Wright if the lieutenant governor won.
“The way I recall the conversation is, ‘If you’re willing to get out of the race and support this candidate that I think is great, I think his supporters will remember that and it may be advantageous for you later. You might want to consider running for the Senate in 2022,'” Wright said to the Deseret News. “That’s how it was pitched.”
Wright denies he considered dropping out of race
Wright told the Deseret News that he wasn’t considering dropping out of the race, noting he “never entertained that thought. Not for one second.” He also said he didn’t view the conversation as an inducement to drop out and support Cox for another position.
On Thursday Gov. Herbert told reporters that no deal had been made. Wright says he believes the governor.
According to the Deseret News, Wright blamed another campaign — which he did not name — for leaking the private conversation with Gov. Herbert. He called it a way to “spread a rumor I was getting out of the race. It wasn’t true. It was hurtful to me and my campaign.”
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