SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert told reporters on Thursday that he did not make a deal with Republican gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright to drop out of the race and back his Lt. Governor Spencer Cox.
The governor confirmed he met with Wright, who did not win the nomination at the Utah Republican Party state convention. Gov. Herbert said he asked if Wright would drop out.
"We talked about that possibility. He was tentative at the end of the day. He said, 'I think I know I'm a long shot, but I want to stay the course and continue on this journey,'" Gov. Herbert said. "He said 'I think I can win.'"
The news of the meeting was first reported by the political website UtahPolicy.com on Tuesday. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Gov. Herbert offered support for Wright if he were to drop out, endorse Cox, and run against Sen. Mike Lee in 2022.
The governor insisted no deal was ever made, which could potentially be a violation of Utah elections law. Instead, he characterized it as asking Wright if he was going to drop out given his performance at the state GOP convention. Similar discussions have taken place on a national level involving Democratic candidates for president and even when President Trump sought office, the governor said.
Wright, the former chairman of the Utah Republican Party, remains in the gubernatorial race.
"I had a private conversation with the governor. We’ve had private conversations breaking down politics over the years," Wright told FOX 13 on Thursday.
Wright said he is glad the governor addressed it.
"We had a conversation about the race. He encouraged me to support his choice in the race. I never viewed that as an option, I never entertained that as an option," he said.
Asked if the governor offered him support for a future political run, Wright characterized it as people might be more willing to support him in the future. He would not say it was a "quid pro quo."
"I viewed it as an encouragement to join him in his support of his chosen candidate," Wright said.
Wright said he believes he does have a pathway to victory, dismissing polls that show him trailing in the race behind Cox, Jon Huntsman Jr. and Greg Hughes.
"I think what’s disappointing is that there’s a campaign that thought to leak this for political purposes," he said, referring to the initial reports. "Unfortunately, there’s the politicizing of these things."