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Jon Huntsman Jr. lost by 1.8 percentage points in Utah’s G.O.P. primary for governor.

Credit: Lu Shu

Former Utah Governor and 1987 College graduate Jon Huntsman Jr. narrowly lost Utah’s GOP primary race to State Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox.

In the crowded Utah primary field, Huntsman Jr. received 34.6% of the vote, while Cox received 36.4%.

Huntsman Jr. moved back to Utah in August after resigning from his two-year stint as the United States ambassador to Russia. He previously served as Utah’s governor from 2005 to 2009 — briefly reaching a 90% approval rating while in office — before stepping down to become former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China in 2009. 

The loss paints a picture of increasing partisanship in Utah, as Huntsman Jr. is known for being a moderate Republican, having worked in both the Obama and Trump administrations as well as having co-chaired the bipartisan American political organization, No Labels. Cox, who is further right than Huntsman Jr., was once critical of 1968 graduate and President Donald Trump, but has since backtracked and now supports the president. 

Cox is overwhelmingly expected to become Utah's next governor in the general election against Democratic nominee Chris Peterson, as Utah has not had a Democrat in the governor’s mansion for over 35 years

The primary loss comes after Huntsman Jr.'s recovery from his early June diagnosis of the coronavirus. Due to his diagnosis, Huntsman Jr. was unable to campaign traditionally, while Cox was a member of Utah's COVID-19 task force for the state's reopening plan.

Though many states offered mail-in ballots in primary elections this year for the first time in efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Utah has conducted its primary elections largely using mail-in ballots since 2013. While the 2020 primary was the first election to be conducted entirely by mail, State Elections Director Justin Lee said 90% of Utah citizens had voted by mail in the past. 

Following the official announcement, Huntsman Jr. released a Twitter concession statement, writing that public service is in his family’s blood. 

Huntsman Jr. is the son of the late Jon Huntsman Sr., 1959 Wharton graduate and namesake of both Wharton’s Huntsman Hall and the dual-degree Huntsman program, who died in early 2018. 

“Whatever our next chapter may hold, I am confident we will find a way to continue to contribute to the good of our community,” he wrote.