Chemical Heir Favored for Utah Governor

His family name adorns a prominent cancer center, and he's held high-level posts in both Bush administrations. Now Jon Huntsman Jr. (search), heir to a billion-dollar chemical fortune, is taking his first shot at public office.

Huntsman, who already disposed of Gov. Olene Walker (search) at May's party convention, is favored to win the Republican nomination for Utah governor in Tuesday's gubernatorial primary. His opponent is Nolan Karras (search), chairman of the board that oversees the state's public universities.

The winner advances to the November election against Democrat Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah law school. Matheson's late father was the last Democrat to hold the governor's job, serving two terms between 1976 and 1984, and his brother is a congressman.

Voters also head to the polls Tuesday in South Carolina, where a Republican runoff election will decide who runs for a U.S. Senate seat left open by the retirement of Democrat Ernest "Fritz" Hollings. The nominee will face Democratic Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum in November.

Huntsman is the oldest child of entrepreneur Jon Huntsman, who amassed a fortune of more than $2 billion with a conglomerate of chemical companies.

The younger Huntsman may be a rookie when it comes to running for elected office, but he's no political newcomer.

He worked in both Bush administrations and as a White House aide under Ronald Reagan. He acknowledges his name recognition helped him finish first at the party convention last month, ahead of eight other GOP hopefuls including the incumbent governor, who came in fourth.

Walker, a 73-year-old former lieutenant governor, has been governor since November, when popular former Gov. Mike Leavitt left Utah to become administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Huntsman failed to get 60 percent of delegates' votes, forcing the runoff with second-place finisher Karras.

Huntsman, heir to his father's business, has spent more than $1.3 million so far on the race, one of 11 gubernatorial contests in the nation this year. He expects to spend $3 million if he advances to the general election.

"It's going to cost a little bit to differentiate yourself, especially in a state with a vast geographic sweep," said Huntsman, who was U.S. ambassador to Singapore under the first Bush administration and is now a trade representative for the White House.

A poll last month by a consulting firm showed Huntsman leading Karras 58 percent to 19 percent, but Karras hopes to sway voters to his side after face-to-face meetings.

"That's how we got through the convention," Karras said. "The people we've met, we had an impact."

Huntsman, 44, touts his economic plan as the centerpiece of his campaign but says his youth and government outsider's thinking may be just as important.

"There's a feeling that people want a new vision, a state redirected," said Huntsman, chairman and chief executive officer of Huntsman Family Holdings Co., the controlling shareholder in a $9.5 billion set of three major chemical manufacturing companies and hundreds of subsidiaries.

Karras, 59, an investment adviser who heads an agriculture products company, has a long history of public service, starting in 1975 as a city planning commissioner in Roy, north of Salt Lake City.

He later served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, including a one-year stint as House speaker. He also served as finance chairman for the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"I'll stand on my experience," Karras said. "I don't think Jon's resume will hold a candle to mine when it comes to state experience. He just hasn't been in the trenches."

Karras acknowledges it has been difficult to fight his opponent's name recognition in heavily Republican Utah, despite spending nearly $1 million. For example, the Huntsman Cancer Institute plans on Monday to dedicate a new cancer hospital, one of the largest in the Salt Lake region.

Tuesday's primary will also narrow the GOP race to one challenger in the state's 2nd Congressional District, now represented by Matheson's brother, Rep. Jim Matheson.

After his first victory in 2000, the GOP-controlled Legislature redrew the district to favor Republicans, but Matheson won re-election by less than a percentage point over former state Rep. John Swallow. This year, Swallow faces software executive Tim Bridgewater for the GOP nomination to face Matheson.

Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett does not face a primary opponent before the general election. He is favored to win a third term in the fall.