On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox became the first notable Republican to announce a bid to succeed Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in next year’s race. While Herbert himself didn’t rule out running again earlier this year, Cox’s announcement almost certainly means that the outgoing governor won’t be seeking another term after all. Herbert held a fundraiser for Cox in January and declared at the time that, while he wasn’t saying “never” to another campaign, he wouldn't be hosting a fundraiser for Cox if he didn't want him in the race.
Like many Republicans, Cox was an ardent Donald Trump critic during the 2016 presidential primary, but unlike many Republicans, he's actually stayed one over the last three years. In June, Cox tweeted that he "want[s] to punch someone" over the administration's family separation policies, adding, "Some in my party are doing and supporting things I never thought possible," and, "We get what we deserve. If we want change, we have to change ourselves." In any other state that kind of candor about Trump would be poison in a GOP primary, but Utah Republicans may feel differently.
However, Cox has also made one prominent enemy closer to home. Utah Sen. Mike Lee has spent years ranting against a 2014 law that weakened conservative activists role in the party nomination process, and in January, he went on Facebook and tagged Cox in one post asking him if he supports the law. Cox, who as lieutenant governor is Utah's top elections officer, has defended the law, so Lee almost certainly knew the answer to his own question and was just trying to start a fight. Cox doesn’t seem to have taken the bait, but we may not have heard the last from Lee in this contest.
Cox has also strayed from conservative orthodoxy in other ways. In 2016, at a vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub, Cox gave a speech were he admitted to treating gay people badly in the past and apologized for “not treating them with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that they deserved.” Cox concluded by imploring his listeners to “be a little kinder,” adding, “For my straight friends, might I suggest starting with someone who is gay.”
Cox is very unlikely to have the GOP field to himself. Wealthy businessman Jeff Burningham opened up a fundraising committee in January and brought in $400,000 though April, though he has not yet announced he’s in. A number of other Republicans, including former Rep. Jason Chaffetz and businessman Josh Romney (a son of Sen. Mitt Romney) are also publicly considering getting in.
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