Gov. Gary Herbert may have a Republican challenger after all. State Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, although still undecided, is sure sounding like a candidate who intends to run.
"It's getting warmer around here," Valentine said Monday when asked if he was going to run. Despite his professed love for City Weekly, however, he would not actually give me an exclusive announcement, saying instead that he would do a press conference if and when he decides, because so many people have asked for the exclusive.
Unlike many of the candidates who have looked at a gubernatorial run in 2010, Valentine does have the luxury of time because he has already been raising money for a 2012 run. With the campaign infrastructure already in place, ramping up for the 2010 challenge to Gov. Gary Herbert would be relatively easy.
His hesitation is that he wants to make sure he is running for a valid reason, and not simply because he wants to be governor.
"If I'm going to do it, there had to be a reason," he said. "It's not going to be for ego."
All of that sounds nice, and is spoken very genuinely. But the reality is that he was already planning to run, which indicates he thinks he can make a difference and he wants to be governor, ego or not. Also, he knew he would almost surely be running against Herbert in 2012, so the issue of challenging his friend from Utah County is moot. Finally, as for money, he actually has a bigger campaign war chest than Herbert.
Waiting actually may help Valentine, especially if he continues to raise money for whichever race he decides to enter. Currently, Herbert is primarily defining himself as governor through words, not actions, which is allowing him to shore up his conservative credentials on issues like gay marriage and the federal fiefdom. While few would question Valentine's conservative credentials, in the Legislature he has typically stayed in the background on the social issue debates. His real expertise is in ground-level policy, such as the budget and tax issues.
By waiting, Valentine can let Herbert burn his fuel on the social issues and then announce his run when there are real policy challenges that make him want to lead the state. Considering the current economy, it could very well be the budget shortfalls that he uses as his springboard.
Then again, it would not be entirely a shock if Valentine stuck with his 2012 plan. Running in 2010 only gives a governor two years to prove themselves, and it will probably be two years dominated by continued budget woes. Without more federal stimulus packages, those budget woes may very well necessitate tax hikes, which would make the sitting governor an easy target for challengers.
Regardless of when he runs, it will be interesting to see how Valentine fares. He is a very smart, well-spoken statesman who is liked by almost everyone. He even treats the pond-scum media with respect, which means he treat everyone with respect. Historically, though, legislators have not done well running for statewide office, even leaders like Valentine who have some name recognition.