Utah governor candidates talk Trump in debate

Republican ex-Russia ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. speaks during a debate for Utah's 2020 gubernatorial race Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Six candidates vying for the GOP nomination in the Utah governor's race meet for their first debate. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two of the leading Republican candidates for Utah governor weighed in on President Donald Trump during a Friday debate, with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox standing by his critiques of the president and former Russia Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. praising Trump for his approach on China.

Cox said he would work with the president but doesn’t like his divisive style.

“I think we need a governor that will be honest about that,” he said.

Huntsman said he supports the president and lauded Trump for taking on Chinese trade practices, a point that played well with the audience at the Utah tech conference called Silicon Slopes.

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a debate for Utah’s 2020 gubernatorial race Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Six candidates vying for the GOP nomination in the Utah governor’s race meet for their first debate. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

“He hasn’t done everything perfectly, he hasn’t said everything perfectly, but I think we’re better off today because President Trump is there,” Huntsman said.

Their comments came as six GOP candidates for governor faced off in a debate for the first time. Asked if anyone did not support the president , no candidate spoke up against him.

Other topics in the debate ranged from economic development to the state’s explosive growth.

Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton stressed the importance of education and giving teachers resources they need.

“I am the candidate who has spent the most time in the classrooms. I understand why education is so critical for our state,” she said.

Aimee Winder Newton, a Salt Lake County Council member, speaks during a debate for Utah’s 2020 gubernatorial race Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Six candidates vying for the GOP nomination in the Utah governor’s race meet for their first debate. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

Real-estate executive Thomas Wright got passionate about the increasingly pressing issue of affordable housing, saying that he would work to reduce the opposition of some property owners to affordable housing built near them.

“Affordable housing is the hub that has a lot of spokes,” he said.

Political newcomer Jeff Burningham emphasized his business roots and his opposition to a recently repealed tax overhaul.

“We do not have a revenue problem in this state,” he said. “But we have a spending problem.”

Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, a vocal Trump supporter, said he would devote attention to bolstering the economy of rural Utah, where some areas are struggling.

“We’ve got to invest in this whole state and the economic vitality of this whole state,” Hughes said.

The six candidates are vying for the GOP nomination in the race to replace Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not running again after more than a decade.

Two Democrats have also declared they will run, but Friday’s debate was limited to candidates who raised at least $50,000.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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