SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah's largest newspaper endorsed Republican Gov. Gary Herbert on Sunday, saying he has steered a mostly moderate course during his first year in office and deserves to remain on the job another two years.
In its endorsement, The Salt Lake Tribune said Herbert could play a more constructive moderating role at the Capitol as a Republican than Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon could as a Democrat. The Legislature is dominated by conservative Republicans who hold a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate.
In 2004, former Gov. Jon Huntsman chose Herbert as his running mate to shore up conservative credentials among the state's highly conservative GOP delegates.
Herbert became governor after Huntsman resigned last summer to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Herbert and Corroon are running in a special election to fill out the remainder of Herbert's term, which expires in 2012.
"By any objective measure, Herbert is a bona fide conservative on both financial and social issues. But in Utah, where the Republican dominated Legislature is pulling further to the right every day, dancing happily with tea party enthusiasts, Herbert has emerged as a moderating force, a voice of reason. We hope he will play that role more strongly if he is re-elected, backed by an electoral mandate of his own in the top job," the endorsement said.
Corroon spokeswoman Stella Thurkill said the newspaper's endorsement wasn't surprising.
"It's not surprising that the sitting governor, who is known to broker deals, received the endorsements of one of the big power brokers in town," she said. "Mayor Corroon is seeking support of the people and its the votes of the people who really matter."
Herbert campaign spokesman Don Olsen said the endorsement was greeted with excitement.
"It's clearly never a bad thing when you get an organization as venerable as the Tribune to endorse your candidacy. So we obviously are very, very pleased with it and appreciate it very much," he said. "Newspapers still have a lot of influence."
The endorsement was welcome news for Herbert's campaign, which has spent recent weeks trying to change the focus of the race away from Corroon's accusations that Herbert may be doling out favors to state contractors who donate to his campaign. Herbert has denied any wrongdoing, but questions over the awarding of a $1.1 billion Interstate 15 contract to a group of companies that donated more than $80,000 has continued to dominate local political coverage.
The Tribune endorsement didn't address the issue, although it did call his lack of support for campaign contribution limits disappointing.
The endorsement said Corroon is also worthy to be governor, but Herbert has a leg up because of his experience on the job.
"With a bit more seasoning, Herbert could emerge as a strong, consensus-building governor who represents all Utahns, recognizing that the state body politic is much more progressive than the Legislature. We believe he will," the endorsement said.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)