SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon confirmed Friday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Utah governor and take on the difficult task of trying to get elected in one of the nation’s most conservative states.
Corroon planned to make an official announcement Monday followed by a statewide tour on Tuesday.
The moderate Democrat is widely seen as his party’s best chance to unseat Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who took office in August after Jon Huntsman resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.
“My plan as governor is to get Utah back to basics, with a smaller, more efficient government focused on educating our children, creating jobs by fostering locally owned businesses, bringing new companies to Utah, and making Utah a leader in renewable energy while protecting our unique quality of life,” Corroon said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Democrat has not served as governor in Utah since Scott Matheson left office in 1985, but Democrats believe Herbert is vulnerable.
Huntsman’s record-setting approval ratings have not transferred to Herbert, and the former real estate agent is still relatively unknown around the state.
“It’ll be a contest. Peter Corroon is a very credible candidate, there’s no question about that,” said Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen. “The perception is he’s done a pretty good job as mayor of Salt Lake County, but the simple fact is in this race you have a new governor who has got off to a great start.”
Utah is a heavily Republican state, but Corroon has managed to maintain high approval ratings in the state’s largest county by gaining a reputation for being fiscally conservative. In 2008, Corroon was elected to a second term with 66 percent of the vote. Outside of Salt Lake County, Corroon is best known for opposing a public financing plan to help build a stadium for Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.
Corroon, 45, had been flirting with a run for the governor’s office since Huntsman resigned. He already has created a political action committee to assist with fundraising and word that he would be running for governor began leaking out nearly a week before his campaign had planned to publicly release it.
Corroon has said he wouldn’t resign as mayor during a gubernatorial campaign.
So far, no other Democrats or Republicans have said they’ll challenge Herbert, 62, in 2010, although several Republicans are considering doing so in 2012 if Herbert remains in office.
Waiting to challenge Herbert in 2012 allows for the governor to build a legislative record that Republicans can run against while allowing more time to raise money before the state convention.
As an unopposed Democratic nominee, Corroon would have time to raise money before November and could sit back and watch as Herbert develops a legislative record in tough economic times.
Both parties will choose their nominees at conventions in May, although Herbert and Corroon are expected to run unopposed.