SALT LAKE CITY – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson of Salt Lake City has suspended all face-to-face campaigning in response to Utah’s skyrocketing rates of coronavirus infection.
“Because of the surging coronavirus numbers,” Peterson said in a statement released Monday, “we have made the responsible decision to suspend all in-person campaign events through Election Day. I hope that my opponent and other campaigns will join us in putting Utahns’ health and safety first during this critical time.”
While not directly responding to that challenge, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s gubernatorial campaign has been a largely low-profile effort since winning the GOP primary in late June. While devoting the lion’s share of his time to heading Utah’s coronavirus task force, Cox supporters have relied mainly upon social media and broadcasts ads to spread the lieutenant governor’s message.
“From the outset,” Peterson added, “our campaign has been focused on protecting Utah families and Utah’s economy. Politicians have failed to keep Utahns safe with their patchwork pandemic response, leading to overrun hospitals, uncertainty in public schools and shuttered businesses across the state …
“The only thing that has changed over the last three months is that there are now hundreds more Utahns sitting down to dinner with an empty seat because a loved one has passed from COVID-19,” the statement continued, parroting the “empty chair” theme introduced by former Vice President Joe Biden during his last debate against President Donald Trump on Oct. 22.
The Democrat’s announcement comes on the heels of a weekend of bad news for Utah.
State health officials reported 1,608 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday and another 1,708 on Sunday, resulting in a rolling seven-day average of 1,490 positive tests per day with a 16.6 percent positivity rate. Utah now ranks sixth in the nation in per capita cases of the disease. Statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 increased to 308 on Sunday, with intensive care units operating at capacity and medical experts predicting that hospital will soon be forced to ration care for coronavirus patients.
But Peterson’s decision to forgo campaign events a week before the general election is unlikely to impact the outcome of the gubernatorial race, according to political observers.
A recent statewide survey commissioned by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Deseret News found that 50 percent of likely Utah voters intended to cast their mail-in ballots for Cox in the general election.
By comparison, only 26 percent of likely voters favor Peterson’s candidacy, according to the survey conducted by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen.
Despite those predictions, Peterson and running mate Karina Brown of Nibley said they will continue to campaign online and plan to host a series of virtual events discussing key issues affecting Utahns.