Utah voters to elect first new governor since 2009

In this Jan. 17, 2020, file photo, the Utah State Capitol stands in Salt Lake City. The Utah Legislature is wrapping up its work for the year, capping off a session that saw major changes to the state's polygamy statute, a revision of a voter-approved redistricting law and a compromise on education funding. The 45-day meeting is ending in the shadow of the new coronavirus, which caused widespread cancellations but didn't cause major disruptions in legislative business. | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file, St. George News

Utah voters are choosing their first new governor in more than a decade Tuesday, bringing to a close the contest where the Republican lieutenant governor is heavily favored to take over.

The coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow over the race, with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox defending the state’s approach of encouraging but not requiring masks even during a fall surge in cases.

Democratic law professor Chris Peterson, on the other hand, has called for a mask mandate.

Despite those differences, the two men joined together in an ad last week calling for civility despite political differences.

Cox is a moderate and one-time critic of President Donald Trump who beat out three competitors in a hard-fought GOP primary, including former U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr.

The winner will succeed Republican Gary Herbert, who first took office in 2009 and decided not to run again this year. He endorsed Cox, who became lieutenant governor in 2013, as his chosen successor.

Cox has consistently polled well ahead in conservative Utah, which has not elected a Democratic governor in more than 40 years. Campaigning has also been more muted due to the pandemic.

The winner will take over from Republican Gary Herbert, who decided not to run again after more than a decade in office. He took over in 2009 when Huntsman cut his second term as governor short to become ambassador to China.

Herbert has approved mask mandates in local areas, including the state capital of Salt Lake City, despite protests from mask opponents on the right.

Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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