SALT LAKE CITY – Jon Huntsman Jr. (search) defeated Nolan Karras (search) on Tuesday in the Republican race for governor, forcing an election that will pit the son of a wealthy industrialist against Scott Matheson Jr. (search), dean of the University of Utah law school and the son of Utah's last Democratic governor.
Huntsman cruised to victory, carrying 66 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting. About a half-hour after an Associated Press analysis of the early returns showed he would handily carry the vote, Huntsman took the dais at the old Union Pacific station in downtown Salt Lake City to announce Karras had conceded the race.
"Yes, we have challenges, but boy, do we have some opportunities," Huntsman told a cheering crowd of supporters.
Huntsman said he would need Karras' help and the support of many others in the coming race against Matheson. "This is going to be a campaign of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness," Huntsman said, one that would bring in "people who never thought they were Republican before."
Huntsman, a Bush administration diplomat who also worked as a White House aide under Ronald Reagan, had long been the strong favorite over Karras, a former Utah House speaker and Board of Regents chairman.
Karras has long acknowledged the uphill battle against Huntsman's name recognition. Huntsman is the oldest child of entrepreneur Jon Huntsman, who amassed a fortune of more than $2 billion with a conglomerate of chemical companies.
Karras said he wanted to show unity with Huntsman but didn't know how he actually would help with the campaign. "It will be up to him," Karras said. "I don't plan to be in harness day to day."
He said he was proud of how clean the race was. "When you're behind, the book is you go negative. We said `No, we're not going to do that,"' he said. "I really believe we ran a good campaign. So did Jon."
Turnout was light for the closed primary. Elections director Amy Naccarato estimated late Tuesday turnout would hit 15 percent once all the absentee, provisional and write-in ballots were counted.
Only registered Republicans or unaffiliated voters willing to vow allegiance to the GOP were allowed to vote in the gubernatorial and congressional races. Naccarato said 70 percent of the state's registered voters are unaffiliated.
With 98 percent of the votes counted late Tuesday, 2nd Congressional District challenger John Swallow held a 53 percent margin over Tim Bridgewater. The two ran against each other two years ago.
Swallow again faces two-term incumbent Jim Matheson, Scott Matheson Jr.'s brother. In 2002, Matheson prevailed over Swallow by just 1,641 votes for a district that was redrawn to favor the GOP in Republican-heavy Utah.
In the 3rd Congressional District, Republican incumbent Chris Cannon was cruising toward a victory over challenger Matt Throckmorton in a race the U.S. Justice Department monitored due to allegations of possible voter fraud. Cannon was leading with 60 percent of the vote with 93 percent of precincts reporting.
Matheson said he felt good about where his campaign stood for as long as Huntsman's name has been in the headlines and for how much money he has already spent, $1.3 million. A poll this week showed Huntsman would beat Matheson with 52 percent of the vote in the November election.
"I think we go into this as the underdog, but at the same time we are definitely within striking distance," Matheson said. "I think the fact that we are close as we are shows this is a very competitive race and we have a good chance of winning it."
Immigration reform groups have campaigned against Cannon, distributing a transcript from a Spanish-language radio program in which they alleged Cannon and an aide encouraged illegal immigrants to vote and donate to Cannon's campaign, a claim Cannon spokesman called "ridiculous."
The U.S. Justice Department on Friday it would send attorneys to monitor the primary.
Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett did not face a primary opponent, and is favored to win a third term in the fall.