SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s lieutenant governor said Tuesday he will seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2020, a widely anticipated announcement that positions him as an early front runner.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox made the campaign announcement via Twitter in a video that focused on his rural hometown and centrist approach.
“It’s no secret that we have some problems in our country right now. We’re more divided than we’ve ever been ever been at any time since the civil war,” he said in the video.
Cox told The Associated Press in an interview that he wants to help change that by running a campaign that shifts from large rallies to more small-scale, public-service oriented events.
“The political-industrial complex, as I like to call it, has been very cowardly in this space. Somebody wins with a negative campaign and now that’s what we do, we tear other people down,” he said. “Campaigns are meant to be a competition of ideas.”
Cox entered the state office in October 2013 under Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, and the two won re-election in 2016. Herbert has said he does not plan to seek a third term in office, and wished Cox well in a statement on Tuesday.
Cox has carved out a moderate reputation and has occasionally criticized members of his own party, including President Donald Trump.
He’s also been an active presence on Twitter, where he shares his love for the Utah Jazz basketball team and asides about Taylor Swift alongside political news and images from official state visits.
He’s expected to face competition. Names that have been floated include several fellow Republicans: Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, former House Speaker Greg Hughes and former governor and current U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr., though none have made any formal announcements.
In conservative Utah, the GOP nominating contest often decides the ultimate winner of statewide races.
Cox said he supports a law Herbert signed banning most abortions after 18 weeks of gestation. “I am unabashedly pro-life,” he said.
He also said he supported state leaders’ move to scale back a voter-approved Medicaid expansion, though he also wants to work to reduce health care costs overall.
Cox held local political positions in and around his rural hometown of Fairview and a freshman state lawmaker when Herbert tapped him for the role. He is a lawyer who has worked as vice president and general counsel for the telecommunications company CentraCom.
He drew national headlines in 2016 for an emotional speech he gave reacting to the Orlando nightclub massacre that left 49 people dead. He apologized for how he treated kids growing up in his small hometown who he now realizes were gay.
This year, Cox had an emotional meeting where he apologized to protesters frustrated about the gutting of a bill to ban gay conversion therapy. He said Tuesday he’s still working to find a “Utah solution” to protect LGTBQ kids during the next legislative session.