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John Huntsman, Jr.

Gary Herbert is out of the governor's race — kind of.

Herbert, who was one of nine GOP candidates for governor this year, on Tuesday accepted fellow gubernatorial hopeful Jon Huntsman Jr.'s invitation to be his lieutenant governor running mate.

So the 14-year Utah County commissioner will fold his campaign into Huntsman's.

"The Huntsman-Herbert ticket has the best chance to win in November," Huntsman said in a noon press conference at Huntsman's West Valley headquarters.

The pair displayed Huntsman-Herbert T-shirts and campaign signs, so newly painted that the fumes filled the small room.

Huntsman, 44, said he considered gender and geography in making Herbert, 56, the offer.

"But in the end, I just picked the best person" to be his running mate, said Huntsman.

Huntsman spokesman Jason Chaffetz said Huntsman didn't offer the lieutenant governor slot to any other gubernatorial candidates and winnowed Herbert's name from about a half dozen people he considered for the post.

Gov. Olene Walker has picked an opposite-gender running mate, Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie. Likewise, GOP candidate Fred Lampropoulos picked an opposite-gender political partner, Brigham City Mayor Lou Ann Christensen.

The other (now five) GOP candidates have not yet picked running mates: House Speaker Marty Stephens, state Sen. Parley Hellewell, former Congressman Jim Hansen, Board of Regents chairman Nolan Karras and Gary Benson. Nor has Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. named a No. 2. Matheson is unopposed within his party and will win the nomination in the Democrats' May 8 state convention.

The rest of the Republican candidates must pick a running mate between now and the end of their convention, also on May 8. At that convention, the 3,500 state GOP delegates will vote on candidates for governor and U.S. House and Senate.

Herbert declined Tuesday to put a number on how many delegates he'll bring to the new combined ticket.

"I think I had good support. I know I'm strong in Utah County and in rural areas" because of his years of work on county issues, Herbert said.

Both men said Herbert will only strengthen Huntsman's main campaign theme: economic development and job creation, leading to more tax revenues for education and other state needs.

Herbert said he has "little or no debt" from his yearlong gubernatorial campaign.

"We were a pay-as-you-go operation," he said.

Huntsman said if Herbert's governor's campaign ends up with any debt, the Huntsman campaign won't pay it off.

The pair talked around any political differences they may have, saying, like a good marriage, if there are issue disagreements they'll talk them out.

In early debates, Huntsman came out in favor of reducing or eliminating the sales tax on unprepared food. Utah is one of only a handful of states that place sales tax on that most basic item.

But local governments are strapped for tax revenues, and Herbert has said they can't afford to lose what little they get from their local-option sales taxes.

"We've already talked about the difference" on the food tax, said Huntsman. "I want something done."

Herbert will bring local government's perspective to the discussion, "and we'll find a workable solution," he added.

As the Republican field became more and more crowded over the last year, some speculated that a few of the candidates knew they were long shots to come out of the state GOP convention, and in fact were running for governor as a way of being considered a lieutenant governor running mate for a top-tier contender.

Herbert denied that was his plan.

"I never ran for lieutenant governor. I ran for governor," he said. "I think I had a good chance of coming out of the convention" as one of the top two finishers in the delegate vote. "As I talked with (supporters) over this last weekend" about joining Huntsman, "a number said stay the course, don't give up. But I think the Huntsman-Herbert ticket is really the best hope for the Republicans in November. I think we are better together than we were apart."

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