SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The contest for the GOP nomination in the race for Utah governor remained too close to call Tuesday, with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox maintaining a narrow lead over ex-U.S. Russia Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. as vote-counting continued during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trailing behind were Greg Hughes, the ex-House speaker and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, and real estate executive Thomas Wright, who positioned himself as the race’s outsider,

Huntsman, who recovered from his own bout with COVID-19, has touted his international experience. Cox has the backing of incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert, who isn’t running again.

The election was conducted entirely by mail due to the pandemic and county clerks were quarantining ballots for 24 hours, likely delaying additional results.

Cox, who was once a sharp critic of Trump but now supports him, told supporters he was feeling optimistic.

“We wanted to see if a campaign could actually be a force for good,” Cox said. “We believe the people of Utah expected more. We believe we could be an example to the rest of the nation in how to do things right.”

An unusual number of Democratic and independent voters crossed party lines to register as Republicans so they could participate in the closed primary, including Sara Barnett, who works at a community clinic in Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood and typically casts her ballot for Democrats.

“I voted Republican so I could vote in this primary election just to use my voice,” said Barnett, who voted for Huntsman. “It was a little abnormal given the party change, but I feel like there were a lot of good candidates, and it was nice to be able to exercise my right to vote.”

Huntsman also said he was feeling confident and expected more votes to go in his favor.

The winner will have a heavy advantage over Democrat Chris Peterson in conservative Utah in November.

Meanwhile, Republicans also chose a candidate to challenge the state’s lone congressional Democrat on Tuesday.

The incumbent state attorney also maintained a lead over his primary challenger. In northern Utah's GOP-dominated 1st District, primaries in both parties remained close in the race to replace retiring longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop.

Here’s a look at the other races on the ballot:

— Conservative ex-NFL player Burgess Owens won the GOP nomination for the 4th District handily Tuesday over a state lawmaker, nonprofit CEO and an ex-radio host who pitched himself as a moderate. He'll challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, who is considered one of the country’s most vulnerable people in Congress after his narrow 2018 victory in the suburban Salt Lake City district.

— Both parties voted to choose their candidates in the GOP-dominated 1st District in northern Utah, though those races were too close to call immediately. On the Republican side, businessman Blake Moore was nearly neck-and-neck with Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson and ex-Utah Agricultural Commissioner Kerry Gibson, with Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt trailing. She drew fire by allowing a concert during the pandemic. Democrat Darren Parry was leading Jamie Cheek for their party’s nod.

— Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was ahead of his primary challenger David Leavitt, the top prosecutor in Utah County who’s been focused on criminal justice reform. The winner of that contest will face Democratic defense attorney Greg Skordas.


Sophia Eppolito contributed to this story. Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.