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Utah special election primary offers glimpse into Republican voters' thoughts on Trump indictments

Election 2023 Decision Notes Utah
Posted at 4:34 PM, Sep 05, 2023

Utah's special election primary on Tuesday to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart could offer a glimpse into how Republican voters feel about a string of indictments against former President Donald Trump that haven't deterred him from charging ahead with his 2024 presidential run.

GOP voters in Utah's sprawling 2nd Congressional District will choose between a trio of candidates that include former state lawmaker and Trump critic Becky Edwards. She will face off against former congressional staffer Celeste Maloy, who was Stewart’s chief legal counsel and has his endorsement, and Bruce Hough, a committeeman for the Republican National Committee for over a decade.

Stewart, a six-term Republican and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, set off a scramble to fill his seat when he announced in May he was resigning because his wife is ill. He plans to step down Sept. 15 after 10 years in office.

The primary winner will be the favorite against Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the Nov. 21 special general election in the reliably Republican district covering northern Salt Lake City and much of southern and western Utah.

Trump and the indictments have not been a central part of this abbreviated campaign for any of the candidates. But Edwards has said she thinks Republicans should consider other candidates for the 2024 presidential race. During her unsuccessful 2022 primary run against Sen. Mike Lee, Edwards criticized Lee for backing Trump’s efforts to discredit the 2020 election results.

“I’m looking for a Republican who can win back the White House. I think it’s time that we have that shift,” Edwards told KTVX on Aug. 19. “It’s early days in the presidential election cycle but I’m watching, as I think most Americans are right now, to look for all the candidates as they’re putting out their ideas.”

Trump won conservative Utah in 2018 and 2022 but the state has never fully embraced Trump, whose demeanor clashes with the political and religious culture that prides itself on maintaining political civility in polarizing times. More than half of the state's residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known widely as the Mormon church. Republican U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, a frequent Trump critic, is among the members of the faith.

The federal indictments against Trump for allegedly working to overturn the 2020 election and for allegedly mishandling classified information after he left office loomed in an Aug. 4 debate between Hough and Maloy.

Trump got little mention in the debate but both suggested the Justice Department was politically selective in charging him.

“We are seeing agencies in the federal government weaponized against people that should not be weaponized. The DOJ, the FBI, others. Everybody should be accountable to the rule of law, period, end of story. And everybody should be treated equally under the law, equally,” Hough said.

The U.S. “looks like a banana republic” with such investigations, said Maloy, who added she would want to serve on a committee to investigate the “weaponization of the federal government” if elected.

Edwards didn’t take part in the debate.

Edwards has raised the most money of the three candidates, bringing in $379,000 while loaning herself an additional $300,000 from personal funds. While Maloy outraised Hough in contributions, Hough loaned his campaign more than $334,000.

If elected, Edwards or Maloy would become the only woman in Utah's congressional delegation and only the fifth in the state's history. The state's most recent female U.S. representative, Mia Love, served from 2015-2019 and was the state's first Black congresswoman.

Maloy qualified for the primary ballot after winning a Utah Republican Party convention vote in June. Hough and Edwards each gathered a minimum of 7,000 signatures to qualify for the primary ballot. Hough is the father of “Dancing With The Stars” veterans Julianne and Derek Hough.