ST. GEORGE – The race for the GOP candidate for Washington County Commission Seat C is too close to call following Tuesday’s preliminary primary election results. Only 70 votes separate Republicans Gil Almquist and Dean Cox, though that could change in coming days as additional mail-in ballots are counted and the totals revised.
According to the primary election’s unofficial results, Cox, current Washington County Administrator and area business owner, garnered 50.26 percent of the vote, 6,797 votes, to Almquist’s 49.74 percent with 6,727 votes.
Cox’s lead could either narrow, widen or be surpassed depending on how many mail-in ballots have yet to be received and counted.
Out of over 13,000 vote-by-mail ballots distributed across Washington County, around 5,800 were counted Tuesday night. A revised tally accounting for additional ballots that were allowed to be mailed in as late as Monday is set for Friday. The official canvas is set for the week of July 11.
“It’s a very tight race and could go either way,” Cox said Tuesday night. “I’m glad I’m up rather than down.”
Like others wondering what fortune Friday’s updated results may bring, Cox said he was “cautiously optimistic” about a victory. If the ballots follow the pattern of those counted on primary election night, Cox said he wouldn’t be surprised if he and Almquist have a split vote.
That’s exactly what happened during the Republican county convention in April. In a second round of voting, both challengers gained 224 votes and were forced into a primary.
“We’re both, I think, solid conservative Republican candidates,” Cox said. “In some issues you can find a difference but in others we are very similar in position and outlook.”
It is because of those similarities, Cox said, that he believes the race is so close.
During a June 15 debate between the two candidates, there wasn’t much they disagreed on. Still, they had some difference of opinion in how to obtain a common goal.
In relation to public lands, Almquist suggested the county take a strong, assertive stance toward the federal government and its managing agencies like the Bureau of Land Management. Issues like the renewal of the Habitat Conservation Plan should be done on the county’s terms and not simply dictated by the Bureau of Land Management and associated agencies.
While Cox agreed the county needs to pose a strong unified front, he said the county and federal agencies need to continue learning to work together. They can negotiate in a mutually beneficial way, he said, rather than in a “take it or stuff it” manner.
While both men chose to pursue the caucus-convention route in order to try and secure their party’s nomination, Almquist also chose to use the alternative route offered by the 2014 Count My Vote-compromise law. He gathered the required number of signatures in order to get his name on the primary ballot depending upon the outcome of April’s county convention.
Despite the difference in approach, both appear to have more in common concerning the issues than otherwise.
“I was running against a very fine gentleman and an excellent and a very qualified candidate,” Cox said of Almquist. “I thought he brought a lot to the table as I thought I did as well.”
Almquist also had praise for Cox, saying he ran a clean and professional campaign.
“There was no desire on my part to be anything but positive and support the ideas I have,” Almquist said. “I believe Dean did the same.”
For his part, Almquist seems to have adopted a “wait and see” approach for the time being. If the numbers are in his favor, he said, the conversation may be different Friday.
“It’s a race that shows everyone’s vote counts,” he said. “There’s no doubt this is a close race.”
If the votes uphold Cox’s lead, Almquist said he was nonetheless grateful for the chance to run because he feels his campaign helped bring key issues in the county to the forefront.
These issues include better pay for Washington County Sheriff’s Office employees, the creation of an animal shelter at Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility and protecting parts of the Sand Mountain Recreation Area from being developed.
“Those are the key areas I felt are now on the agenda and I’m glad for that,” he said.
If he fails to secure the nomination, Almquist said the public may see him in another political race sometime in the future. Others tend to ask him to run for various positions, he said, so he may yet have a hand in dealing with key issues in the county like public lands access.
“I’m not closing any doors to serving the public,” he said.
Almquist has been involved in local politics since the early 1990s. A landscaper by trade, he has served on the City of St. George Planning Commission and later its City Council over a period of 24 years.
Cox is also no stranger to politics, having been involved in the Republican Party for many years, which includes serving as the chair of Washington County Republican Party from 2005-2009. He has also been heavily involved in emergency services such as Washington County Search and Rescue.
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