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Utah voters to elect first new governor since 2009

This photo taken Sept. 29, 2020, shows Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, speaks while debating Democratic challenger Chris Peterson in Salt Lake City. Rival candidates vying to become Utah's next governor joined together in new ads Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, urging people to accept the results of the November elections and maintain decency with one another despite political differences.(Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP, Pool)

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST Associated Press

Utah voters are choosing their first new governor in more than a decade Tuesday, bringing to a close the contest where the Republican lieutenant governor is heavily favored to take over.

The coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow over the race, with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox defending the state’s approach of encouraging but not requiring masks even during a fall surge in cases.

Democratic law professor Chris Peterson, on the other hand, has called for a mask mandate.

Despite those differences, the two men joined together in an ad last week calling for civility despite political differences.

Cox is a moderate and onetime critic of President Donald Trump who beat out three competitors in a hard-fought GOP primary, including former U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr.

The winner will succeed Republican Gary Herbert, who first took office in 2009 and decided not to run again this year. He endorsed Cox, who became lieutenant governor in 2013, as his chosen successor.

Cox has consistently polled well ahead in conservative Utah, which has not elected a Democratic governor in more than 40 years. Campaigning has also been more muted due to the pandemic.

The winner will take over from Republican Gary Herbert, who decided not to run again after more than a decade in office. He took over in 2009 when Huntsman cut his second term as governor short to become ambassador to China.

Herbert has approved mask mandates in local areas, including the state capital of Salt Lake City, despite protests from mask opponents on the right.

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