Four candidates in the race for the Republican Party’s nomination for Utah Governor met virtually on May 7 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also dominated the debate topics.

At the debate hosted by the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. John Huntsman, former House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright argued their qualifications for seeing Utah through the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced he would not run again after his re-election in 2016, ultimately endorsing Cox, his lieutenant governor.

Candidates debated the timing and strategy involved in rescinding restrictions on businesses in the interests of public health. Cox, part of this administration, said he believed the economy would rebound quicker than after the 2008 recession because the state was “very strong heading into this downturn,” emphasizing the importance of education.

Huntsman commented that it was clear that the public was “not just going to sign up to go to a mass event like a Jazz game or a concert anytime soon, and it’s going to take a while before restaurants are back to operating normally again.”

Hughes and Wright appeared more aggressive in their approach to reopening businesses.

The candidates all agreed that SB54, a law allowing candidates to be placed on the primary ballot via signature collection rather than party caucus, was confusing and should be altered by the Utah Legislature. That included Huntsman, who himself was placed on the primary ballot by signature collection. The law was intended to reduce the nominating power of party delegates and has been the subject of multiple lawsuits from Republican Party officials.

The Utah Debate Commission announced that their Republican Governor Debate will be held on June 1 at 6 p.m. at the University of Utah.

The Democratic Party nominee for Utah Governor is University of Utah law professor Christopher Peterson. Utah has not elected a Democrat to the office since 1976.