Gov. Gary Herbert endorses Spencer Cox as his successor

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Gary Herbert, right, has endorsed Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in Utah's 2020 governor's race.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is officially throwing his support behind his right-hand-man over his former boss.

On Thursday, Herbert announced his formal endorsement of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has served in his administration for nearly seven years and occupied a prominent role in the state’s coronavirus response.

“I trust his judgment and vision, especially in challenging times,” Herbert said in a prepared statement. “This recovery is too important to leave to chance. Spencer helped me lead our economy into the most prosperous period in state history. I trust him to do it again.”

The endorsement is unsurprising, given the close ties between the public officials and Herbert’s statement of support and decision to contribute $50,000 to Cox’s campaign last year. However, the donation came before the gubernatorial contest officially included former Gov. Jon Huntsman — in whose administration Herbert served as lieutenant governor.

Herbert became governor in 2009, after Huntsman exited the post to accept a presidential appointment as U.S. ambassador to China.

Cox was a Utah House representative in 2013 when Herbert named him lieutenant governor. Before that, Cox had served as mayor of Fairview and as a Sanpete County commissioner.

“I know of Governor Herbert’s sincere respect for other candidates in this race with whom he has previously served," Cox said in a prepared statement, “but Abby and I are grateful to earn his endorsement and appreciate him encouraging Utahns to support us in the June primary election."

Cox’s campaign on Monday celebrated earning an endorsement from Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, a former opponent in the gubernatorial race until she was eliminated in last month’s Republican Party convention.

In a video posted to Twitter, Winder Newton said Cox and his running mate, state Sen. Deidre Henderson, have “unquestionable character, experience working in the trenches and down-to-earth leadership.”

Cox and Huntsman are facing former House Speaker Greg Hughes and former state GOP chairman Thomas Wright in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

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