Utah Gov. Spencer Cox fends off primary challenge amid GOP divisions

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) has fended off a primary challenger from his right, Decision Desk HQ projects, defeating the candidate backed by the state party.

Popular incumbent Cox bested Phil Lyman, who scored the official nod from the Utah GOP earlier this year as some in the party criticized Cox as too moderate. Cox was booed at the party’s state convention, which political observers say picked its candidates in large part based off their support for former President Trump. 

Lyman was pardoned by Trump in 2020 after being convicted of a misdemeanor for leading an ATV protest ride on closed public land, and has said he’s supported the former president “unapologetically” since 2016.

Cox has said he hasn’t voted for a major party presidential candidate since 2012, and said both parties are making a “huge mistake” by nominating President Biden and former President Trump, respectively.

Under Utah’s convention-caucus system, losing the party nomination might have kept Cox off the ballot — but he gathered enough signatures to compete in Tuesday’s contest even without his party’s approval.  

Despite the party snub, Cox, who enjoys strong approval ratings from his state, had a significant polling advantage heading into Tuesday’s contest. 

It isn’t the first time the state party has voted against a candidate who went on to win the race. In 2016, the convention also denied the nomination to Cox’s former boss, then-Gov. Gary Herbert, though Herbert went on to easily win the primary and the general election.

Cox will now face off against Democrat Brian King, a state lawmaker, in the fall. 

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