Latest poll of potential Utah Republican candidates for 2020 governor’s race shows Chaffetz, Cox remain leading contenders

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz gives a thumbs-up to the crowd during the annual Freedom Festival Grand Parade in downtown Provo, Monday, July 4, 2016.

Former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox continue to lead the pack of presumed Republican candidates for Utah’s 2020 gubernatorial election, according to a new poll from The Salt Lake Tribune and Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Chaffetz carried the support of 25 percent of registered Republican voters in the poll, followed by Cox with 16 percent. The results are virtually unchanged from a June survey by The Tribune and Hinckley Institute that also found Chaffetz and Cox with 25 percent and 16 percent, respectively, among Republican and unaffiliated voters.

“I’m honored and thrilled that Republicans are so happy with me,” Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz was first elected to the U.S. House in 2008 and served for more than eight years before resigning in June 2017 just six months into his last term. He is now a political commentator on the Fox News channel.

He told The Tribune recently that he is considering a run for governor in 2020, but that a final decision is “more than a year away.”

“Elections are already far too long,” he said.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Cox, a former member of the Utah House and the state’s lieutenant governor since 2013, recently told The Tribune’s “Trib Talk” podcast that he is seriously considering a run for governor and currently “leaning that direction.”

Asked about the latest poll numbers, Cox echoed the comments he made after the June survey.

“I’m still blown away that someone from Sanpete [County] could even be on a list like this,” he said. “And I hate that we are having this conversation two years early while we are literally in the middle of an election.”

The latest poll, conducted Oct. 3-9 by the Hinckley Institute of Politics, included responses from 291 registered Republican voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

After Chaffetz and Cox, eight-term Rep. Rob Bishop — who represents Utah’s 1st Congressional District in Congress — had the next highest level of support with 11 percent, up from 9 percent in the June poll.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was supported by 7 percent of participants, down from 9 percent in June, and outgoing Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, had the backing of 3 percent of participants, identical to the earlier poll.

Once again, the top answer on the survey was “Don’t know,” with 36 percent, suggesting a lot of room among the electorate for candidates to campaign for additional support. But the new poll also included former Utah Jazz CEO Greg Miller, who gained the support of 2 percent of participants.

Miller said colleagues and family members have encouraged him to consider public service and that running for governor would be a meaningful way to preserve Utah’s “wonderful way of life.”

“Given the amount of early positive feedback to date,” Miller said, “it’s something I’m considering but certainly not committed to at this point.”

Gov. Gary Herbert has stated that his current term will be his last, suggesting an open election for the seat in 2020. Because of Utah’s partisan leanings, it is highly likely that Herbert will be succeeded by another Republican governor.

No prominent Democrats are yet being talked about for the race.

Bishop has also stated that the 2018 race will be the last time he seeks re-election to Congress, which has fueled speculation that he’s considering a run for governor in 2020.

“One election at a time,” Bishop told The Tribune recently, declining to elaborate.

“Congressman Bishop is only focused on this year’s election and serving the constituents of Utah’s 1st Congressional District,” said Kyle Palmer, Bishop’s campaign manager.

Hughes, a member of the Utah House since 2002, is not seeking re-election to his seat this year. He said the poll results are “interesting.”

“Who’s that juggernaut ‘undecided’?” Hughes said, referring to the top response in the survey. “Talk about a dark horse.”

Reyes, who was appointed attorney general in 2013 after the resignation of John Swallow and has won two elections since, was the only potential gubernatorial candidate to lose ground in the new poll. Asked about the results, Reyes’ campaign adviser Alan Crooks provided a statement to The Tribune nearly identical to the one he offered after the June survey.

“Still don’t give a flip about a Salt Lake Tribune poll,” Crooks said.