Utah Democrats pan gubernatorial debate performance of Cox, Lyman

June 12, 2024 (Cache Valley Daily)

SALT LAKE CITY – How you saw Utah’s only gubernatorial debate prior to the June 25 GOP primary balloting apparently depended on which side of the political aisle you viewed it from.

To Republican viewers, the debate between incumbent Gov. Spencer Cox and challenger Phil Lyman was a model of restraint and civility.

It was so tame, in fact, that Cox called it ‘boring” in post-debate interviews with media representatives and Lyman more or less agreed.

But Democrats apparently saw an entirely different debate.

“The Republican circus was on full display tonight,” according to Thom DeSirant, the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.

“It is clear that both Cox and Lyman are more interested in appeasing extremist delegates, donors and special interests,” said DeSirant, commenting on his admittedly biased view of the June 11 face-off between Cox and Lyman, “than they are in addressing the real concerns of everyday Utahns.”

Before the television cameras of the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City, both GOP candidates took the high road, staying positive without any of the mud-slinging that has dominated the campaign news since the GOP state nominating convention in April.

At that Republican gathering, Lyman captured 67.5 percent of the votes from the state’s delegates, who greeted the governor’s appearance there with catcalls and boos. Cox survived that humiliation only by virtue of collecting enough voter signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

But recent polling for the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University Of Utah reveals that Cox still enjoys a commanding lead with 62 percent of registered Republicans voters favoring him compared to only 25 percent of those voters leaning toward Lyman.

The only survey that DeSirant is interested in, however, is research done in April by the Utah Foundation that revealed more than 60 percent of Utahns believe that the state is on the wrong track and that quality of life is worse now than it was five years ago.

That study found that survey respondents cited housing affordability as their chief concern and, for a wonder, both GOP candidates agree with that worry.

In his opening remarks, Cox also pegged housing affordability as one of the state’s major problems and praised the “tireless work” of lawmakers in the 2024 general session of the Legislature to pass major housing reform bills.

But Lyman said the best thing that the state could do would be to get out of the way of the housing market, blaming Utah regulations for having created incentives for developers to abandon the construction of single family starter homes in favor of multi-family, high-rise units.

Although the candidates managed to grudgingly agree on support for education, federal overreach on public lands and abortion issues, Lyman still found fault with Cox’s approach to the statewide problems of water management, illegal immigration, attracting out-of-state businesses and subsidizing expensive sport stadiums.

DeSirant insists, however, that the only thing the debate proved is that both candidates have “ … surrendered to a vocal minority of far-right extremists.”

“Rather than addressing critical issues,” DeSirant said, parroting the party-line rhetoric that the national Biden-Harris re-election campaign is using against former President Donald Trump, “Gov. Cox is twisting himself into knots to appease the radical right-wing of his party.

“Phil Lyman donned his usual clown costume by spouting unfounded conspiracy theories,” the Democrat added, “and advocating for a dangerous agenda of division and chaos.”

Founded in 1945, The Utah Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization.

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