Reactions from state, federal and local officials poured in Monday as the Associated Press declared Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox the winner of April’s Republican primary in the race to be Utah’s next governor.

The state elections office reported that Cox received 185,104 votes, 36.4%, as of Monday, more than 9,000 votes ahead of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.’s 175,970 votes, 34.6%. Former House Speaker Greg Hughes has gotten just over 21% of the popular vote while former Utah Republican Party Chair Thomas Wright received about 8%.

Election officials in Utah, Salt Lake, Weber, Box Elder, Davis, Sanpete and Tooele counties had updated election results as of Monday, while the rest of the counties in the state hadn’t updated since last week.

Cox has significantly outperformed Huntsman in Utah County, where, as of Monday, the lieutenant governor received 47,418 votes, 44.7%, compared to Huntsman’s 30,249 votes, 28.5%. Hughes has received just under 20% of votes in Utah County so far and Wright has gotten about 7%.

Meanwhile, Huntsman has been the favorite in Salt Lake County, where he has 67,654 votes, 45.8%, ahead of Cox’s 48,750 votes, 33%.

“Today the race was called, and we accept the will of the people, as is our tradition as Americans,” Huntsman said in a statement Monday. “The visions put forward for Utah were very different, and I regret that I will not be leading the efforts in moving us towards a new horizon. This was anything but a typical campaign season, with the COVID-19 pandemic making impossible our ability to meet face-to-face with more of the people in communities across our state. However, I am heartened by the record voter turnout we saw in this primary election and I hope every eligible voter will exercise this most sacred right in November.”

Huntsman, who served as Utah’s governor from 2005 to 2009 and who ran alongside Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, did not mention Cox in his statement.

Cox, who is running with state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said he and Henderson were “humbled by the vote of confidence from the people of Utah in selecting us as the Republican nominees for governor and lieutenant governor.”

“As farm kids from Sanpete County, (Cox’s wife) Abby (Cox) and I never dreamed of having this opportunity,” Cox said in a statement Monday. “If elected in November, we will take our rural values of hard work, honesty and responsibility to the Governor’s office each day.”

He added, “Most importantly, we believe the results of this election prove that negative campaigns do not work.”

Hughes, who served in the Utah State Legislature up to 2018, has criticized Cox and Gov. Gary Herbert for “unconstitutional shutdown orders” during the COVID-19 pandemic and compiled tweets from Cox on his campaign website that he says show the candidate doesn’t support President Donald Trump.

During a press conference outside the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, Cox said politics “has become a religion to people” and “become so toxic.”

“Negative campaigns do not work in the state of Utah,” said Cox. “The people of Utah have made that clear over and over and over again. And we stand to tell you today that they do not work.”

Looking ahead to November, Cox said his and Henderson’s primary campaign focus would be calling for increased education funding and empowering teachers, adding that he hoped public schools would be open for physical attendance by fall.

When asked about calls throughout the country to “defund” the police after the death of George Floyd, including in cities like Provo and Salt Lake City, Cox said, “We need the exact opposite."

“As we talk to police officers throughout the state of Utah, we know we’re asking them to do too much,” he said. “We’re asking them to do things that they’re not trained to do, especially around mental health and other issues.”

Henderson, who withdrew her candidacy for reelection to the senate in March, said she was grateful for the opportunity to run for lieutenant governor alongside Cox.

“I am so honored to be his running mate,” Henderson said Tuesday. “Choosing to give up my ability to serve a third term in the Utah State Senate was kind of a hard decision. It’s one I had to make. I couldn’t do both things.”

Top Utah officials congratulated Cox and Henderson on the GOP primary victory, including House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

“I want to congratulate my friends (Cox and Henderson) … on securing the GOP nomination for governor,” Wilson tweeted Tuesday. “Onward to the general election.”

Utah’s congressional delegates chimed in as well, with United States Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, tweeting that “Spencer will be a great leader for our state.”

“Congratulations @SpencerJCox on winning the GOP primary in Utah’s gubernatorial race!,” tweeted United States Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “Our state has a long history of strong leadership, and I look forward to supporting you in November.”

Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, who has been a vocal Cox supporter on social media throughout the campaign season, called Cox’s primary victory a “big win” for the state of Utah.

“Best news of #2020: Good people and positive campaigns can also be contagious,” Ainge tweeted Monday night.

Cox will compete against Democratic candidate Chris Peterson, a University of Utah law professor, and his running mate, Karina Brown, in the November general election.

“With unprecedented unemployment, a mismanaged pandemic response, underfunded public schools, and a crisis in moral leadership in Washington, more and more Utahns believe it is time for change,” Peterson said in a statement following Cox’s declared victory. “Karina and I plan to run a positive race focusing on issues facing Utahns in their daily lives.”

Cox described Peterson as a “wonderful professor” and a “very, very brilliant person and a public servant.”

“We look forward to having a robust discussion and debate,” Cox said Tuesday. “And we’re going to work just as hard towards November as we did to get to this point on June 30.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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