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Jonathan Johnson, the former president and CEO of Overstock.com, officially kicked off his bid to knock off Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday evening, but it is already clear and probably not surprising who his biggest is.
Thus far, nearly all of the $238,000 that Johnson has received for his challenge to Herbert has come either from his own pocket or from Overstock itself.
Johnson personally gave about $17,000 in literature to his campaign and gave $45,000 to his political action committee the Promote Liberty PAC this year. The company's high-profile and outspoken current CEO, Patrick Byrne, contributed $100,000 to the PAC, which has funded the bulk of Johnson's political startup.
A Las Vegas-based consulting group, Silver Bullet, headed by veteran political strategist Chuck Warren, which has also done work for Overstock in the past, donated nearly $180,000 of in-kind work to the Johnson campaign for voter database management.
All that for a campaign that hadn't officially kicked off until Tuesday evening.
The early financial disclosure reports point to what could be a first for Herbert since he became governor a well-funded Republican challenger vying for the party's nomination.
Herbert, of course, is no slouch himself when it comes to fundraising. He has more than $1.3 million in his campaign account and is laying the groundwork for his annual fundraising gala on Nov. 7, where he typically rakes in another $1 million.
"We're talking big money here," said Tim Chambless, a political science professor from the University of Utah.
Chambless said there is precedent for hefty spending in Utah elections, and the Republican gubernatorial primary looks like it will be no exception, although the balance still tilts to the sitting governor.
"Money helps to an extent in terms of wholesale [politics]," Chambless said. "But I think more effective is that incumbents inherently have an advantage because they get the free media and they have an opportunity to perform, and if citizen voters perceive the incumbent is doing a good job, they're likely to rehire the incumbent based on job performance. That's why challengers have such a difficult time."
Johnson publicly launched his campaign at a barbecue at the Overstock headquarters in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday night. He had told Republican delegates at the Utah Republican State Convention last month that he was going to run against Herbert.
Herbert's campaign spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said the governor is not yet focused on the campaign.
"To be candid about it … we're not thinking about it a lot right now," Carpenter said. "His personal attention is first and foremost on doing the job he's been given to do, and that is to govern the state."
Johnson has been building for his challenge to Herbert for months, traveling the state in an endless string of speaking engagements, and hiring Dave Hansen, who has run Sen. Orrin Hatch's campaigns, and several of his colleagues to staff the gubernatorial bid.
Johnson has been active in recent years in several conservative political causes, including backing a push to expand civics education in Utah schools, supporting a bill allowing people with terminal illnesses to try drugs that have not received approval from federal regulators, promoting efforts to protect religious liberty and bankrolling an attempt to undermine unions in the state.
Johnson was also a supporter of the school-voucher movement, and he has promoted vouchers to help teachers buy supplies for their classrooms.
Johnson has refused to say how much of his own money he plans to spend on his campaign, but he has considerable resources to draw upon. Carpenter said the governor is committed to doing the work he needs to in order to win in 2016.
"The governor is taking this very seriously," Carpenter said. "He refuses to be outworked when it comes to a campaign. It's been the secret of his success all along. Part of that work is not only meeting with people and talking to them about your vision for the state … but that is a matter of fundraising, as well. We'll run the campaign we need to run to have the outcome we need to have."