It was a family affair as Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, surrounded by his wife, kids and a slew of cousins, gathered in West Valley City to collect signatures for his 2020 gubernatorial run.
A jeans-clad Cox made small talk and worked the room on Saturday—also Utah’s statehood anniversary, he pointed out—before taking the mic to address supporters and volunteers. “Thank you so very, very, very much for coming today,” he told the sizable throng. “When you do something like this, you don’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if we’d have five people here today … we hoped for 50, [but] 400-plus definitely exceeded our expectations.”
The event was designed to launch signature-gathering efforts. In order to secure a spot on June’s primary ballot, Cox’s campaign first must gather 28,000 signatures. Rather than outsourcing, Cox said he’s relying on volunteers, some recruited during the event, to complete the task.
“When we talk about a grassroots campaign—everybody talks about it—but we’re seeing it,” Cox said, before thanking the 1,500 individual donors who have made monetary contributions to his campaign. The number, he said, exceeds his Republican counterparts’ efforts by around 600 donors.
Attendees included Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah; Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross; Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful; Sen. Don Ipsen, R-St. George; Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Utah; and Cox’s wife, Abby.
“Our hearts are full,” Abby Cox told the crowd. Calling on her Mount Pleasant upbringing and her husband’s in Fairview, Cox highlighted how their rural roots cemented the couple’s faith at an early age. “We learned one thing, we learned faith,” she said. “We learned to have faith in God, we learned to have faith in our community, we learned to have faith in those around us and today, we have faith that the citizens of Utah know who to elect for governor.”
If elected come November, Cox would be the first non-incumbent gubernatorial candidate to claim the seat since fellow current hopeful Jon Huntsman Jr. did in 2004. Along with Huntsman, Cox joins a crowded primary race that so far includes Jeff Burningham, Jason Christensen, Aimee Winder Newton, Thomas Wright and lone Democrat, Zachary Moses.
“The good news for the people of the state of Utah, is that they have some really good choices,” Cox told City Weekly as he exited the stage. “I know every person who is running. I consider many of them friends, and so it’s gonna be a fun race.”
Asked to pinpoint the most important issue for the state’s highest office to tackle, Cox swiftly responded “education, for sure.”
He said it keeps coming up in conversations he’s had with residents in 202 of the state’s 248 incorporated cities and towns he has visited. “Everywhere we go, everybody's worried about education,” he said. “We have a teacher shortage in our state, we’ve got to make sure that our kids are ready for the future economy—that’s the biggest one.”
He also cited growth issues. Namely, transportation, air quality and housing costs. “It’s still all about education,” he pressed. “If we get education right, we can solve all those other problems. If we don’t get education right, it won’t matter.”
That message resonated with many in the room, including Jennifer Lyman. The Pleasant Grove resident, who also happens to be one of Cox’s cousins, praised the gubernatorial hopeful’s earnest platform.
“I really believe in what he stands for—compassionate conservatism. He believes that, you know, we need to take care of other people and not just ourselves,” she said. “He’s also very pro education, public education, which I appreciate.”
The event winding down, Cox continued to circulate the room, flashing his smile, engaging in brief conversations and answering questions. All but one: his band’s name.
“We’ve gone back-and-forth on names over the years,” he said with a chuckle. “UpSide is the one we’ve used the most,” he stammered. “I know that you’re wondering, ‘Why is he having a hard time with this?’ But it’s something we fight about regularly,” he continued. “We’ll have another one by tomorrow, I’m sure.”