SALT LAKE CITY – For Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson, the suspense is over. The University of Utah law professor now knows that he’s up against Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in the general election race to replace outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert.
That’s not to say that the outcome of the GOP primary balloting on June 30 surprised Peterson very much.
“We had been following the polls pretty closely,” Peterson admits, referring to his running mate Karina Brown of Nibley. “So we weren’t really surprised by any of the primary results; they were pretty consistent with the way that the polls were breaking.”
Peterson adds that his campaign strategy wouldn’t have been altered if the primary balloting had gone the other way, favoring former governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr.
“Obviously, anytime that someone with the name Huntsman loses anything in Utah, that’s news …” Peterson says. “That’s especially true in an era when you have to spend a lot of money in order to reach voters.”
But Peterson and Brown say they aren’t planning to run that kind of big-spending campaign.
“We’re just going to focus on our message of the need for change, for taking care of Utah’s working families and for ensuring that the ordinary people across this state are treated with dignity and fairness.”
Peterson candidly admits that he isn’t suited to run either of the types of political campaigns usually seen nowadays.
“The way I see it,” Peterson explains, “there are two ways nowadays to get your message to voters. You can be bombastic and unreasonable on the internet … We can all think of one political leader who is especially good at that. You can love him or hate him; he doesn’t seem to care.
“But that’s not me. I’m a moderate person. I like people to be polite. I like teamwork. I like seeing cooperation solve problems. So being bombastic on the internet is just not a realistic option for me.
“The other option,” Peterson says, “is to bombard your way into people’s consciousness by purchasing television ads, radio spots, billboards and internet banner postings. While that’s a legitimate way of campaigning, it does mean that you have to raise a lot of money and owe a lot of favors. So I’m uncomfortable with that as well, because my primary concern is representing ordinary working Utahns.”
The Democratic candidate acknowledges that winning the gubernatorial race in the November general election is a daunting challenge. Utah hasn’t had a Democratic governor in 35 years. Registered GOP voters in Utah outnumber registered Democrats by more than three-to-one. The economic slow-down as a result of the coronavirus outbreak will also make it difficult for the Peterson-Brown campaign to raise funds from ordinary Utahns.
“But we still think that there’s a real appetite for change in Utah now,” Peterson argues. “There are a lot of people around the state who think that a reasonable moderate in the governor’s mansion could help to nudge the Republican Party – that is obviously still going to be very powerful and influential – back toward the political center so that they will listen to the people more carefully.”