SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert handily won his first full term in office Tuesday, beating Democratic challenger Peter Cooke 69 percent to 27 percent, with 91 percent of precincts statewide reporting.
"It's a great night for Republicans in Utah and a great night for Utah," Herbert said. "We've got a lot to be thankful for, and we're certainly humbled by the opportunity to serve the next four years."
Herbert thanked countless volunteers, voters and his family. He then said that with Mitt Romney's loss in the presidential race, it is even more imperative that states lead out.
"The best hope for America as we go forward is the states," he said. "And led by Republican governors, this country will survive, we'll have a bright future and Utah will be the one to help lead by example."
Herbert said that through "unprecedented partnerships," he would continue to lead the state with principles espoused by the Republican Party and that Romney fought for, including empowering the private sector, raising the bar when it comes to educational achievement and maintaining efficiency in government.
"We're going to show the rest of America that we can do more with less, protect the taxpayers' dollars and grow the economy, providing economic opportunity and jobs for our population," Herbert touted.
He said not much will change going forward, but more concern might be had for water conservation efforts throughout the Beehive State.
Cooke graciously conceded the race to Herbert on Tuesday night, with no regrets on how his campaign played out.
"Vince Rampton and I gave all we had. We were outspent twelve to one, but we established some issues that I think will be a benchmark for us to all look at and see, as a state, how we can become better," Cooke said, pointing at education and environment.
"Elections happen, and now we move on. We'll support the governor any way we can to help him continue his course," he said.
Herbert, who took over as governor in 2009 after former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. stepped down to become U.S. ambassador to China, won a special election two years ago for the remainder of Huntsman's term against Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
This year, Herbert faced a less well-funded opponent in Cooke, a retired U.S. Army Reserve general and businessman who served in the administration of Utah's last Democratic governor, the late Scott Matheson, back in the 1980s.
Cooke had campaigned hard much of the year but had difficultly gaining traction with his message. He focused on what he saw wrong with Herbert's leadership but offered few specific solutions.
For example, Cooke said, he would spend some $2 billion more on education over the next four years, but would not be able to identify where the additional money would come from until he was in office and had access to state resources.
Herbert didn't even hit the campaign trail until late October. He raised more than $2.2 million compared with Cooke's nearly $360,000, with the help of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the keynote speaker at Herbert's annual Governor's Gala.
The governor did face an intraparty challenge from conservatives, including tea party activist David Kirkham and former congressional candidate Morgan Philpot, but won the GOP nomination at the party's state convention in June.
Throughout the campaign, Herbert emphasized Utah's strong showing in national business and other rankings, while Cooke suggested the state was still struggling to recover from the country's economic downturn.
Though Herbert continued his upbeat assessment of Utah, he tempered his statements with a reminder to the state's residents that there are still challenges ahead.