Citing costs, Aimee Winder Newton stops collecting signatures in Utah governor’s race

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton answers a question during the gubernatorial debate at the 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Aimee Winder Newton announced Wednesday that her campaign will stop gathering signatures needed to qualify for the primary election ballot and will focus instead on winning delegates at the Republican State Convention in April.

State law provides two routes to qualify for a primary election, and some candidates have indicated they would pursue both. Winder Newton conceded she won’t reach the 28,000 signature threshold to secure her spot on the ballot without paying for them — to the tune of more than $200,000.

“There is not a single gubernatorial campaign that can get all of its signatures without paying for at least some of them,” Winder Newton said in a news release. “I supported a grassroots effort to engage with voters through the signature process, but I’d rather put my resources toward earning the voters’ support.”

Winder Newton, currently a Salt Lake County councilwoman, characterized her campaign as a grassroots effort dedicated to “crafting a bright future for Utah and most importantly, making sure we don’t turn into California.”

The candidate has previously said her priorities in the race would be managing growth while maintaining quality of life and education, including addressing a statewide teacher shortage.

Her campaign said it is in the process of reaching out to volunteers and those who signed the ballot petition so they can participate in the Republican Caucus as delegates next month.

“We will continue to take our conservative message to voters and delegates across Utah and remain confident we will appear on the primary ballot in June,” she added in the news release — and if she does, she would be the first woman candidate from a major party to appear on a primary or general election ballot for governor.

Tim Chambless, who teaches political science at the University of Utah, said Wednesday that Winder Newton’s decision to halt signature gathering could bode poorly for her campaign as she heads into a competitive convention.

Winder Newton now “goes into the party convention with the uncertainty of whether or not she’s going to get to the June 23 primary successfully,” Chambless said. “She’s running against a number of financially well-off candidates, people who have held arguably more powerful positions than being a member of the Salt Lake County Council.”

She also has to contend with something none of her other opponents face, he said: “sexism.” No woman currently holds a statewide office, he noted, and the state’s only woman governor, Olene Walker, was appointed to that seat and did not make it out of the 2004 Republican State Convention despite her overwhelming popularity with the public.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gov Spencer Cox was the only candidate who has already submitted certified signatures, according to the state elections office. His campaign has had 18,988 certified so far — about 68% of the way to the total 28,000 signatures needed — but has turned in more than 30,000.

Former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright has submitted around 30,000 signatures that have not yet been counted, while Provo businessman Jeff Burningham and former Gov. Jon Huntsman have declared their intent to gather signatures.

Former House Speaker Greg Hughes has said he would not be gathering signatures and would instead bank on support for party delegates at the convention.

Editor’s note: Former Gov. Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, Tribune owner and publisher.