Cox endorses new GOP PAC, blurring line between his office and partisan politics

New political action committee will work to elect more GOP women in Utah

(Bryan Schott | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox joins a group of women Republican lawmakers at the launch of the Republican Women Lead political action committee.

It’s hard to overlook the fact that the most prominent speaker at the launch of a new political action committee focused on electing Republican women was Utah’s male governor.

Spencer Cox’s presence Tuesday on the steps of the Utah Capitol highlights the drought of female GOP officeholders in the state. There are just nine Republican women out of 81 Republicans in the Utah Legislature.

It also demonstrates Cox is not hesitant about blurring the line between his official duties and partisan pursuits.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, who is spearheading the new Republican Women Lead PAC, said Utah does a terrible job supporting and encouraging GOP women who want to wade into the political waters.

“This won’t be a litmus test on how conservative you are. If you’re a registered Republican, then we’re going to be there with training and financial resources to help them out,” she said.

“This is an issue that’s so important to our party,” said Cox of the new group. “It’s no secret that we have done a very poor job getting women involved as Republicans.”

The PAC will focus on state-level and down-ballot races. It will try to win seats with no incumbent or push to flip Democratic-held seats. The group won’t get involved in federal-level races, meaning it will stay out of next year’s U.S. Senate race, where Sen. Mike Lee is facing GOP challengers, including former state Rep. Becky Edwards.

It’s not the first time Cox has used his office to weigh into a partisan issue. In March, former Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman Scott Miller attacked several GOP women who accused him of doing nothing to address a toxic environment within the party. In response, Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson issued a news release condemning Miller’s actions. That news release came through their official office rather than their political organization.

“Just like Donald Trump holding engaging in political events in front of the White House, this just shows the breakdown of our political norms,” said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant. “Even Governor Cox would recognize he’s better than that.”

A spokesperson for Cox’s office says he was at the news conference in a nonofficial capacity, and the event was not listed on his official calendar. But the optics of the governor on the steps of the Capitol flanked by the Utah and U.S. flags on a weekday morning certainly lent an official air to the debut of a group focused on increasing the number of Republicans in elected office.

Melissa Garff Ballard, a Republican from Salt Lake City, said most organizations dedicated to assisting women in politics tend to focus on Democrats or progressives.

“It’s crucial for us to realize on issues like child care, abortion, or women in the workforce, Republican women have a different perspective than Democratic women,” she said. “It’s essential for more Republican women to step forward and be willing to stand up for positions and values that are important to us and communicate them to voters who share them.”

The PAC’s advisory committee will interview potential candidates and provide them with support and training. They want to raise approximately $100,000 ahead of the 2022 election cycle.