Election preview: Breaking down Utah's state executive races

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June 25, 2012

By Ballotpedia's state executive team

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah: There are five state executive seats up for election this year: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and state auditor. In Utah, major party candidates are not necessarily nominated through a primary election. Each party holds a statewide convention during which the party delegates vote for candidates. If a candidate receives more than 60% of the delegate vote, they receive the party's nomination and no primary election is held. If no candidates receives the requisite 60% of the delegate vote, the top two finishers from the convention face off in the primary. Third party candidates are nominated via primary election.

Here's a breakdown of which Democratic and Republican races are uncontested in the primary, which were settled at the state convention, and which will be on tomorrow's ballot:

RaceContested?Decided at convention?On the primary ballot?
Governor and Lt. Governor (D)Free stop icon.pngYes.pngFree stop icon.png
Governor and Lt. Governor (R)Yes.pngYes.pngFree stop icon.png
Attorney General (D)Free stop icon.pngYes.pngFree stop icon.png
Attorney General (R)Yes.pngFree stop icon.pngYes.png
Treasurer (D)Free stop icon.pngYes.pngFree stop icon.png
Treasurer (R)Free stop icon.pngYes.pngFree stop icon.png
Auditor (D)Free stop icon.pngYes.pngFree stop icon.png
Auditor (R)Yes.pngFree stop icon.pngYes.png

Incumbents are seeking re-election in four of the five races. The current attorney general, Mark Shurtleff (R), is not seeking a fourth term in office. Three of the remaining incumbents faced a challenger in the state convention. The sitting governor, Gary Herbert and his lieutenant governor, Greg Bell, captured 63% of the delegate vote to clinch the Republican nomination; auditor Auston Johnson will defend his seat in tomorrow's primary after receiving only 55% of the delegate vote at the convention. Treasurer Richard Ellis was unchallenged at the convention.

See also: Utah gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial election, 2012

Primary election candidates:

General election candidates:

In Utah, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected on a single ticket. Incumbents Gary Herbert and Greg Bell (R) are running for re-election. In July 2011, polling indicated Herbert would have no trouble getting re-elected unless he were to face Congressman Jim Matheson.[1] Matheson, though, has opted to run for Congress in Utah's newly created 4th District. At the statewide Republican Party nominating convention in late April, Herbert and Bell captured 63 percent of the Republican delegates, beating out five other candidates for the party's nomination.[2] At the Democratic Party's convention, Peter Cooke and his running mate Vince Rampton were unopposed and easily won their party's nod.[2]

Though the Democrats and Republicans selected their gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates during their statewide convention in Utah, third party candidates are still chosen in the primary elections. The two pairs of major party candidates will be met in November's general election by Libertarian Party candidate Ken Larsen and his running mate Rob Latham, along with either Brandon Nay or Kirk Pearson of the Constitution Party, who will face off in the June 26 primary.

See also: Utah attorney general election, 2012

Called "one of the dirtiest in years,"[3] the Republican primary race for Attorney General - between outgoing attorney general Mark Shurtleff's deputy chief John Swallow and star attorney Sean D. Reyes - is going to be settled over more than the candidates' proposed strategies for taking over as Utah's chief law enforcement official.

Indeed, from an issue position standpoint, the candidates' conservative ideologies, Swallow's being the more extreme of the pair, offered little opportunity for differentiation on topics like healthcare, crime, and immigration. Both are militant opponents of the Affordable Care Act, and cite protecting Utah from over-regulation and federal overreach as top priorities for the office.[4][5]

Not necessarily because of these similarities, the race has been defined instead by the commentary it has inspired on the institution and influence of SuperPACs. Organized attacks by these ostensibly unaffiliated organizations of discreet fundraisers were mobilized against both candidates in the week leading up to the primary election, spilling over into the candidate debates, and resulting in at least one defamation suit, from Reyes.[3]

Most of the anti-Reyes TV and radio spots were sponsored by a Las Vegas-based PAC called "It's Now or Never, Inc." The ads claim Reyes lacks the rectitude and civility required of a high ranking public servant, based on a 1993 reckless driving episode and an alleged under the table cash contribution made to his political consultant. The latter accusation originated from a campaign finance reporting mishap in April involving a $5,000 reimbursement. The sum was "misreported"[6] as a contribution, according to Reyes, and the minor scandal was settled swiftly by the lieutenant governor's office, which oversees state elections. Reyes retaliated by suing Swallow for defamation of character, and by bringing up a disclosure incident from Swallow's 2002 congressional campaign, for which penalties were exacted, in contrast with his Treasurer's mistake from this year. "He knows he can't beat me when it comes to credentials, either legal credentials or leadership credentials, so he resorts to these kinds of bush league tactics, says Reyes. "[7] The UTE SuperPAC responsible for sending mailers and airing - predominantly radio - spots against Swallow accuses the deputy attorney general of being a target of a federal investigation for intervening in a Salt Lake County bid process.[6] Swallow's camp insists that the mailer in particular, which insinuated the candidate is poised for federal indictment, is a lie, and a "malicious hit piece and a potential violation of state law."[8]

Reyes is a Cottonwood Heights attorney and a popular figure in local, state, and national politics, particularly within the Republican party for his service as a delegate, appointed member of the State Central Committee, and adviser on Latino issues. If elected, Reyes, who is outspoken about his aversion to politics and says that being attorney general "is not on my bucket list,"[9] would become Utah’s first statewide-elected official from a minority community.[4]Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag

Name recognition and establishment clout helped make Swallow an early favorite for the Republican nomination, and he enjoyed a commanding lead in fundraising over Reyes as of the June 19 financial disclosure reports. He also spent about twice as much as Reyes, nearly $200,000, on the primary race.[10] Swallow earned a majority of the delegate vote at the Republican nominating convention, but failed to reach the 60% threshold necessary to avoid the primary ballot.[11]

The winner of the June 26 contest will face two challengers in November: Weber County Attorney Dee W. Smith (D), who ran unopposed for his party's nomination, and veteran attorney general candidate, Libertarian W. Andrew McCullough.[12]

Incumbent Ellis is seeking a second term in office

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the general election ballot for Utah Treasurer is set. First elected in 2008, Republican incumbent Richard Ellis is seeking re-election. He was renominated for the position unchallenged at the Republican Party convention in April.[13] Christopher Stout was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.[14] Vincent Marcus is running as a Libertarian.

Incumbent Johnson is seeking a second term in office

After failing to secure his party's nomination at the state convention, Republican Utah State Auditor Auston Johnson will face a primary challenge from state Rep. John Dougall. Johnson received 55 percent of delegate support at the convention to Dougall's 45 percent, with 60 percent necessary in order to avoid a primary.[15] Johnson has held the office since July 1995.

Mark Sage was unopposed for the Democratic nomination,[14] while Richard Proctor is running for the Constitution Party.

See also


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