Huntsman won’t run write-in campaign for Utah governor

Jon Huntsman will not attempt a write-in campaign for Utah governor, he announced Friday evening in a Facebook message, saying that while proceeding with such a last-ditch effort would be a “great theoretical game,” it would end up sowing division.

“While we respect the concerned voices of Utahns from every corner of the political spectrum, our earlier words also still hold true — the primary voters have spoken,” wrote Huntsman, who narrowly lost the GOP contest to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “Even the closest of races like ours are subject to rules, and we respect that outcome.”

Huntsman, a former Utah governor who left the post in 2009 to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, wrote that he remained concerned about the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and about the coronavirus task force that Cox led.

”Because if there was corruption, it should never die in darkness, and power should never silence truth,” he wrote. “But mostly, the people of Utah deserve the highest of ethics in government, something we worked had to maintain as governor, as I hope will be the case with future administrations.”

Following Huntsman’s June primary loss, his supporters have been pressing him to re-enter the gubernatorial race as a write-in candidate. A group of these backers met with him in recent days to convince him that such a bid would be viable and necessary, given the fact that Cox captured the nomination with less than majority support.

In Huntsman’s Facebook announcement, posted on his wife’s account, he called these supporters “irrepressible champions for a better state” who simply felt that “such a pathetically broken electoral system shouldn’t be the last word.”

Huntsman had until Monday to file as a write-in candidate for the general election against Cox and Democratic candidate Chris Peterson.

In a prepared statement issued Friday night, Cox said Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, have “dedicated countless chapters of their lives to the country and our state.”

“No election result will take away from their record of service, philanthropy and kindness,” Cox said. “Despite the deep divides that exist in our nation, Utahns continue to rise above and find ways to unite. We remain confident and optimistic that our best days are still to come.”

Jamie Renda, a Huntsman supporter, said she’s still hopeful her candidate of choice might change his mind by Monday, saying she believes fellow party members have discouraged him from entering the running against his own better judgment.

“There’s too many people who are telling him he’d divide the Republican Party,” Renda said. “But he could’ve united Utah.”

Renda, owner of Brixton’s Baked Potato in Ogden, said she believed Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters could’ve coalesced around Huntsman for his positions on the coronavirus response and race relations in Utah.

But Huntsman’s post made clear that he was concerned that his re-entry to the race would cause discord.

“While proceeding with a write-in campaign makes for a great theoretical game, it also carries with it the harm of more division in our beloved state that needs to heal, on many fronts,” he said.

Derek Brown, chairman of the Utah GOP, declined to comment on Friday night’s announcement. However, he has previously made clear that the party would stand behind Cox as the Republican nominee.

And Sen. Mike Lee, who endorsed Huntsman for governor ahead of the Utah GOP convention, recently told ABC4 News that he’d discourage the former ambassador from attempting a write-in campaign.

“I don’t see any reasonably likely scenario in which he could win if he did do it,” Lee said in the TV interview.

In recent weeks, a website emerged to persuade Huntsman to run as a write-in candidate, and his supporters even conducted some polling on his viability. Further stoking write-in rumors, Huntsman’s mother, Karen Huntsman, dumped more than $1 million into her son’s gubernatorial campaign account since the June 30 Republican primary.

Although Huntsman finished 1 percentage point behind Cox, with roughly 35% support, he initially swatted down rumors that he was considering a write-in campaign.

However, in early August, he and his family hinted that he was still toying with the idea, with an Instagram post that featured a photo of Huntsman sitting next to his granddaughter, Isabel.

“Isabel trying to convince her Bapa to do a write in campaign for Utah Governor,” the caption reads. “He told her he’d think about it.”

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