Frontrunners in dead heat for GOP gubernatorial nod

According to recent polling, gubernatorial candidates Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (left) and Spencer Cox (right) are in a statistical dead heat in GOP primary balloting set for June 30.

SALT LAKE CITY – The race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination is rapidly narrowing into a two-man contest, according to recent polling.

A survey of 500 Utah voters by Suffolk University for The Salt Lake Tribune put Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. in a statistical dead heat with less than three weeks until primary voting on June 30.

About 32 percent of survey respondents said that they would vote for Cox if the primary were held today. Another 30 percent of likely voters in the GOP primary favored Huntsman. Given the poll’s 4.4 percent margin of error, that means that Cox and Huntsman are neck-and-neck in the primary race that will likely decide who will serve as Utah’s next governor.

Former speaker of the Utah House Greg Hughes was the top pick for 14 percent of survey respondents, while about 8 percent favored former GOP party chair Thomas Wright.

Pollster David Paleologos of the Suffolk University Political Research Center admitted that the survey’s pool of 500 respondents included about 130 likely voters who are not registered Republicans, which would normally exempt them from voting in the closed GOP primary. But those voters said they plan to change their party affiliation in response to appeals from the Huntsman campaign to do so.

When only the opinions of the 370 rank-and-file Republicans who responded to the survey are considered, Cox is still favored by 32 percent, Huntsman drops to 25 percent, Hughes climbs to 17 percent and Wright edges up slightly to 9 percent.

Paleologos said detailed analysis of the survey results revealed that Cox was favored by the majority of Republicans of all stripes, while Huntsman polled better with Republicans who identified themselves as liberal, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

The survey results seem to indicate the outcome of the June 30 primary election will depend on two factors.

The first of those factors is how many Democrats and unaffiliated voters will actually crossover to cast ballots for Huntsman.

The other factor will be which candidate wins the majority of the votes from the 17 percent of survey respondents who still consider themselves undecided.

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