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Looking At Utah's Republican Primary With Bryan Schott Of Utah Policy

Bryan Schott, Managing Editor, UtahPolicy.com


Tuesday’s Republican primary had some big surprises and some races were too close to call, with a significant number of vote-by-mail ballots outstanding.

In the governor’s race, the final two finishers, former GOP chairman, Tom Wright and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes announced they’re dropping out. 

To break it all down, UPR’s Shoshannah Buxbaum talked to UtahPolicy.com’s managing editor, Bryan Schott. 


Shoshannah Buxbaum: Let's start with the governor's race. So right now lieutenant governor Spencer Cox is ahead of former governor Jon Huntsman by just about three points. So what should we expect in the next couple of days or even weeks as the ballots are being counted?


Bryan Schott: Well, if this was a head to head race, it'd be a lot easier to have projections of what each candidate needed to do in order to win but it's a four way race. So we don't know how the two candidates at the bottom, Greg Hughes and Thomas Wright. We don't know how those ballots are going to break towards them. We also don't know how many ballots are outstanding. There was an estimate given to reporters yesterday that it could have been around 100,000 ballots out there. That seems like a lot. If it's more than that, then I would suspect that Huntsman has a wider path to catch Cox. So this thing is going to tighten. I don't know how much it's going to tighten. But you know, late voters may break a little bit more towards Huntsman. 


Buxbaum: Moving on to the fourth congressional district race. Burgess Owens, the former NFL player, he sort of swept that primary. He got 45% of the vote and looking ahead towards the general election, what do you think his chances are of defeating the incumbent Democrat, Ben McAdams in the fall?


Schott: On paper? They should be good. That is a primarily republican district. But Burgess Owens is, I want to say not quite suited for the voters in that district. He is very much tied himself to President Donald Trump. The fourth Congressional District was the worst congressional district for Trump in 2016. His approval ratings in that district have stayed around 39%. The fourth congressional district is not Trump country and he's got a really tough time overcoming that with Ben McAdams, who is an incumbent, he won very narrowly in 2018. But, he's sort of walked the middle road about bipartisanship. And, you know Owens, Owens is much farther to the right, than any of the other candidates would have been. So I think that this is probably the best possible matchup for Ben McAdams. Make no mistake, he's gonna have a tough time hanging on to that seat.


Buxbaum: Probably the biggest surprise of the night was that state senator Lyle Hillyard lost his seat. So what's the significance of that in the statehouse?


Schott: Well, Lyle Hillyard, he first won election in 1979. So he's been on the hill for 40 years. So, he's been an absolute fixture up there. He knows how everything works. He was one of the public faces of the failed tax reform from last year and he paid the price for it. I think we got an indication during the final days of the campaign that Hillyard knew he was in a little bit of trouble, because he started attacking his opponent, which he's never had to do. He's never really had a credible primary opponent or even a credible general election opponent in the last four decades. So, he was in a position he wasn't expected to be in. It's a big loss for the Senate.


Buxbaum: So, state election officials have been saying that they're anticipating a high turnout for this primary. Do you think that it's going to end up being high turnout, and if so, why do you think there's an increased interest this year?


Schott: Well, it's vote-by-mail. That's so easy to do. I mean, that automatically boosts turnout. We've seen higher turnouts in the past because of vote-by-mail. But, you got to get people to turn those ballots in, right? But I think that there's just been a heightened interest in politics, given the fact that we have the first truly open governor seat since 1992. People are very engaged in the day to day thing, even casual observers, I think are getting engaged in politics,  and so that's why we're seeing the numbers tick up in terms of turnout.


Buxbaum: All right. Brian Schott managing editor for UtahPolicy.com.  Thank you so much for joining us.


Schott: Anytime.