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AP: Spencer Cox wins race for Utah governor

Utah gubernatorial candidates Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, left, and Democrat Chris Peterson, right, are pictured in handout photos from the Utah Debate Commission on Sept. 25, 2020.

Lt. Gov Spencer Cox has the lead over Democrat challenger Chris Peterson in the race for Utah governor, preliminary results show. Updated polling numbers show Cox leading with 63.16% and Peterson trailing at 32.41% as of 9:30 p.m. 

AP called the gubernatorial race at 8 p.m. with Cox as the winner. 

 

Peterson conceded from the race hours later at 10:30 p.m., calling his gubernatorial campaign “an honor.”

“I’m proud that we ran an ethical race focused on policy issues,” Peterson said in a statement. “This campaign was about building a new beginning for the Democratic Party in Utah. My name was on the ballot, but this was never about me. It was about fighting to make a positive difference in the daily lives of working people.”

Utah chooses a new governor

The governor’s race is one of the most high-profile races in Utah this year because it guarantees a new state leader, after Gov. Gary Herbert announced in 2019 he would not be running for re-election. It’s the first time an incumbent isn’t running for the seat in over a decade. 

Cox has held a strong lead over Peterson in the weeks leading up to the election, with a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in late October showing roughly half of voters throwing their support behind the lieutenant governor. 

The same poll showed about 25% of voters supporting Peterson and another 16% were unsure. 

Tense at times, but candidates run an amicable race

Despite disagreements on the state’s coronavirus response and public education, the two candidates have maintained a mostly amicable race. 

In fact, Cox and Peterson ran a set of joint campaign ads in October to urge Utah voters to remain civil regardless of the election outcome. The ads were in direct response to comments from President Donald Trump who didn’t clarify whether he would accept the final tally after Nov. 3. 

 

“We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” Peterson said. 

“We can disagree without hating each other,” Cox added.

However, the two differ on several campaign issues — namely the coronavirus pandemic. 

Peterson released a statement in September calling on Cox to step down from his position as the head of the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force — calling it a usurpation of the health department by local government. 

The Democratic candidate also called on the lieutenant governor to enforce a face mask mandate across the state, arguing the state response was “hijacked by unproven and ineffective treatments.”