GOP gubernatorial candidates spent big on primary

GOP candidates vying to replace outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert have spent nearly $6.5 million in the run-up to the June 30 primary balloting.

SALT LAKE CITY – Regardless of its outcome, the 2020 GOP primary balloting on June 30 will have set a record for spending by gubernatorial candidates that is likely to stand for years.

According to their latest financial disclosure statements, the four Republican candidates vying to replace outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert have spent a combined total of nearly $6.5 million since declaring their candidacies earlier this year.

Not surprisingly, the biggest spenders in the primary contest were the front-runners: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. Both candidates reported spending about $2 million, much of it on mailers, television/radio advertising and social media announcements.

Former state GOP chair Thomas Wright reported spending about $1.3 million for similar expenditures, while former Utah House speaker Greg Hughes listed his spending at about $1.1 million.

By contrast, less than half that amount was spent on the gubernatorial primary in 2016, when Herbert was forced to defend his incumbency against GOP challenger Jonathan Johnson. The Herbert campaign then reported expenditures of about $1.5 million, compared to about $880,000 in spending by Johnson.

Political observers attribute much of the increased campaign spending this year to the fact that there are four candidates contending in the primary. Hughes was selected in the traditional way by GOP convention delegates, while Cox, Huntsman and Wright all qualified for the primary by collecting voter signatures.

The coronavirus pandemic also played a role in boosting candidate spending during the run-up to the primary. Due to the statewide restrictions on public gatherings from mid-March to May, all of the GOP candidates were obliged to rely more heavily on media purchases to spread their messages.

Based on their most recent campaign disclosures, Cox appears to be the best prepared of the candidates for a final spending blitz prior to the primary on June 30.

The lieutenant governor’s campaign reported a cash reserve of $514,000 as of June 23, compared to $337,000 in campaign coffers for Hughes, $61,700 for Huntsman and $47,000 for Wright.

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