SALT LAKE CITY – Republican Gov. Gary Herbert easily defeated Overstock.com executive Jonathan Johnson Tuesday to win a closely watched primary race that helped boost voter turnout to the highest level in two decades.
After results came in, Herbert spoke to reporters outside the governor's mansion in Salt Lake city, saying he was grateful and that he believed voters felt he had a positive track record that he could build upon for the future. He captured about 7 of every 10 votes.
Herbert said he had a "common-sense approach" to issues such as Common Core education standards and Utah's new election law — two hot-button issues where he clashed with Johnson.
"I think that's what all the people of Utah want and appreciated," he said.
Speaking outside his campaign headquarters, Johnson said his supporters should hold their heads high because they changed the discussion in Utah. He noted that Herbert had supported Common Core education standards months ago, something Johnson had criticized him for.
"Now he says he's not." Johnson said. "I hope he's true to his word."
The victory sends Herbert on to face Democrat Mike Weinholtz in the November general election. Herbert will be a heavy favorite since deep-red Utah hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1980.
A win in the general election would make Herbert, in office since 2009, among the state's longest-serving governors. He says the 2016 election will be his last.
On the Democratic side, Misty Snow took one step closer to becoming the first openly transgender woman elected in Utah by defeating marriage therapist Jonathan Swinton. Snow, a grocery store cashier making her first run for political office, will face incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee in November's general election.
"This shows LGBT people that being LGBT is not a barrier to running for political office," Snow said. "You can be you, and people will respect you for that."
In another high-profile race, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz breezed past BYU professor Chia-Chi Teng in his bid for a fifth term in a congressional district that starts in Salt Lake City-area suburbs and extends to the state's southeast corner.
Chaffetz has represented Utah's 3rd Congressional District since 2008. Teng was well-funded, but Chaffetz is a popular conservative figure who prevailed as expected.
"Voters know that I'm fighting the mess that is Washington D.C.," Chaffetz said. "They know I'm working hard and doing the best I can to represent us."
Voters across Utah's 29 counties also settled partisan battles in 10 legislative races and narrowed the field in a number of nonpartisan school board and local races.
Nearly 21 percent of registered voters had cast ballots as of 6 p.m., said Mark Thomas, director of elections with the Utah Lt. Governor's Office. The majority of those were tallied from mail-in or absentee ballots. More than two-thirds of Utah counties conducted the primary election mostly by mail.
Utah's 2014 primary, where only a handful of legislative races and county offices were on the ballot, saw less than 13 percent voter participation.
Herbert faced a primary after Johnson won more support from several thousand core members of Utah's GOP at an April state convention. But Herbert brought a moderate appeal to the wider swath of primary voters and scored a key endorsement from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who remains hugely popular in Utah.
Herbert became Utah's governor during the Great Recession and cited the state's now-humming economy as a reason to elect him to another four-year term.
Johnson, chairman of the board at Overstock.com, touted his private-sector experience and criticized the governor's approval of fuel, sales and property taxes over the years.
Johnson criticized Herbert from the right on issues such as education policy and pushing back against federal control. After Johnson's repeated hammering of Herbert for supporting Common Core gained traction with conservatives, Herbert dropped his support of the benchmarks and called for repeal, saying controversy over Common Core wasn't helping students.
Both candidates' reliance on mega-donors erupted as a campaign issue in recent weeks after The Salt Lake Tribune released a recording of Herbert referring to himself as "Available Jones" while offering to meet with lobbyists for campaign donations. Herbert has said he was disappointed in himself but noted nothing unethical or illegal occurred.
A Johnson supporter filed a complaint with Utah's elections office, asking officials to determine if Herbert's campaign broke any election laws.
Thomas said the complaint was handed over to the state attorney general's office, which had no comment on whether it's investigating.