GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. filed for re-election Tuesday, and longtime Democrat Bob Springmeyer said he would be challenging the governor this year.
It is the second run for office by Springmeyer, 64, an urban planner. He ran unsuccessfully for the then-Salt Lake County Commission in 1976, although he has been active in state Democratic politics for years.
"I probably would have more luck in winning the lottery" than this race, said a realistic Springmeyer. He ticked off Huntsman's advantages: "He is very popular. He's handsome. He can raise a lot of money. He has a billionaire daddy. And his wife (first lady Mary Kaye) is drop-dead gorgeous." Utah has not elected a Democratic governor since 1980.
Still, Springmeyer says he will give it a go, work hard, bring up important issues. "There are only really three important offices in Utah governor, and the two U.S. senators. I've been asked" by the Utah Democratic Party "to represent my party in one of those. It is an honor and a privilege."
Huntsman, 47, who took the oath of candidacy from his Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who will once again be his running mate, said he knows Springmeyer personally. "He is a good man. He is well known in the community. He's worked on planning and growth issues, quality of life issues. I've enjoyed my interaction with him. He is a serious player and I think he will mount a very serious campaign."
But it's a campaign that may wait awhile.
"You'll see me again in September," said Springmeyer, owner of Bonneville Research, who added he will not put any of his personal money into the race and probably won't be publicly campaigning until after Labor Day. "People who are sitting on the fence don't make up their minds" about whom they will vote for "until the last three or four weeks of a campaign anyway; anything earlier is basically chest-thumping" and self-promotion, he said.
Huntsman, surrounded by some of his staff, Mary Kaye and a number of their children, also signed Utah's "Fair Campaign Practices" voluntary law. It promises, as Herbert put it in explaining the document to Huntsman, "that you will not say any bad things about your opponent which are not true."
Huntsman said he hasn't set a budget for his campaign yet, but imagines he will spend less than $1 million. That would make it one of the least expensive gubernatorial campaigns by a serious, major-party candidate in recent state history.
Springmeyer said he may get "a little atta-boy money" from the Utah Democratic Party, but he's planning on running a skinny financial race.
Huntsman is about in the same position as former GOP-Gov. Mike Leavitt was in Leavitt's first re-election race in 1996. Leavitt was a hugely popular GOP governor in a very Republican state. He had a lot of money. And Democrats put up a sacrificial lamb Jim Bradley. Bradley had run for Salt Lake mayor, served as a county commissioner and planned a future in politics. (He now sits on the Salt Lake County Council.)
Leavitt, who did not win 50 percent of the vote in a tough, three-person race in 1992, set a goal of winning his 1996 race by the largest margin for a major office in recent state history. And he did, getting more than 70 percent of the vote.
Huntsman said he has only one political goal this year: "Winning. I'll be happy with 50 percent plus one. I'm a political realist."
Said Springmeyer: "I told the party that I would gladly step down if some good, strong Democrat wanted to win by losing" this year's governor's race. "Someone who wanted to set up a good foundation for running in four years" for governor or some other higher office. "But that doesn't seem to be happening." Springmeyer said barring any last-minute changes, he would file Monday the last candidate filing day this year.
He listed his four main campaign themes as public education; economic development, "which really goes hand in hand to funding education"; ethics reform, mainly in the Legislature, as he sees no great faults with the executive branch of government; and "leading out" on stopping the Legislature from "continually telling" local governments and school districts how to run their affairs.
"The (GOP-controlled) Legislature complains all the time about mandates from the federal government, but then tells local governments what to do," said Springmeyer, who is married with children and grandchildren.
Huntsman has already announced that he will serve only two four-year terms as governor. He early on backed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the GOP presidential race. And now that McCain is the Republican nominee, rumors circulate that Huntsman could find a high office in Washington, D.C., should McCain win. But Huntsman reiterated Tuesday that his current plans call for him to serve out his second gubernatorial term, should he win in November.
And what about Springmeyer's claim that Mary Kaye Huntsman is "drop-dead gorgeous"?Responded Huntsman: "So at the outset of this race we definitely agree on one thing."