Robert Gehrke’s post-election rundown: Why the math is working against Jon Huntsman

Robert Gehrke

After taking some time to digest the numbers from Utah’s gubernatorial primary, things aren’t looking good for Jon Huntsman’s camp.

The problem he’s facing isn’t that the remaining votes won’t go his way. I think there’s a likelihood that they will. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be enough of them for him to close the 11,000-vote deficit.

With Utah County’s late results last night, more than 401,000 votes have been counted. I would be surprised if turnout goes over 500,000, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it gets to 550,000 and a third of them are Huntsman’s crossover voters, those unaffiliated and Dem voters who participated in the Republican contest.

That means 50,000 crossovers, 100,000 traditional Republican voters. (That estimate is way too high, but we’re making a point here).

If the polls coming in before the election were right and he wins those 50,000 votes by a 19-point margin, he can just about erase the deficit — but not quite (Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox would still be ahead by about 1,500).

But it means there are still 100,000 of the normal Republican votes to be counted, and according to the pre-election polls, these voters favor Cox over Huntsman. Being generous, if those 100,000 votes go the same way they did on election night — 37% for Cox, 34% for Huntsman — Cox would stretch that 1,500-vote margin to about 4,000.

He still wins, just by less than he’s ahead now.

The point is, even with VERY generous assumptions in Huntsman’s favor — irrationally generous assumptions, in my opinion — he still loses by a few thousand votes.

The one sliver of hope, a very small one, is that maybe there are more votes in pro-Huntsman counties. We’ll know more at 3 p.m., when counties announce updated totals. It looks like Salt Lake County has probably about 40,000, and Weber County, which went to Huntsman, looks like it will have quite a few. (I’m basing the Weber estimate on the fact that the county accounted for 7% of the ballots cast in the 2018 primary and so far only accounts for 4.5% of them this year).

But I don’t think it changes the equation. I think after today, Huntsman will cut into Cox’s lead a little, but it will be obvious — if it isn’t already — that Cox is the winner and moves on to November.

Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, the chairman of The Salt Lake Tribune’s nonprofit board of directors.