A former staffer for Utah Rep. Chris Stewart won a three-way Republican primary in a special election to succeed him after he resigns from office.
Celeste Maloy defeated former state Rep. Becky Edwards and businessperson Bruce Hough. She will be the favorite when she faces Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the special general election Nov. 21 in the reliably Republican district.
Maloy was chief legal counsel for Stewart, a Republican, who after 10 years in Congress is resigning Sept. 15 because his wife is ill. The district covers northern Salt Lake City and much of western and southern Utah.
Maloy had the endorsement of Stewart and former Utah U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop. Republicans nominated Maloy at their convention in June despite questions about her eligibility because she hadn’t voted in recent elections while living in Virginia.
The three-way primary was a rare gauge this year of how Republican voters are responding to former President Donald Trump’s indictments for allegedly working to overturn the 2020 election and for allegedly mishandling classified information after he left office.
While all three GOP candidates campaigned on traditional small government, pro-business platforms, Edwards stood out after running on an anti-Trump platform in a Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2022. Maloy and Hough criticized the indictment as politically driven.
Hough is the father of “Dancing With The Stars” veterans Julianne and Derek Hough.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
With strong backing from Utah's rural voters, Donald Trump supporter Celeste Maloy's lead grew Wednesday in a Republican special congressional primary, but the race was still too early to call.
Whoever triumphs in the GOP primary will be heavily favored to win November's general election, and the race has thrown a spotlight on the rural-urban divide among Republicans in the sprawling district, which encompasses large swaths of southern and western Utah as well as northern Salt Lake City.
Many votes had yet to be counted, with thousands of mail-in ballots expected to come in over the next two weeks.
Becky Edwards, a former state lawmaker who's been critical of Trump, was leading in two urban counties. But Maloy, who was chief legal counsel to U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, had the overall edge with support from rural areas. Stewart is stepping down next week because his wife is ill.
Maloy, who has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Southern Utah University and once worked as a U.S. Department of Agriculture soil conservationist, credited her campaign’s focus on rural areas.
“I did debates in the rural counties. I showed up and held events in the rural counties,” Maloy said in an interview Wednesday. “We decided early on that our strategy was going to be to win the rural counties, and then get as much as we could in the more urban counties.”
Her message against “government overreach” resonated with rural voters, she said.
After Edwards' early lead evaporated Tuesday night, she briefly thanked supporters before wrapping up an election night party in Salt Lake City. As they chanted “Becky, Becky,” Edwards said she felt optimistic but would have to wait for more vote counting.
On Wednesday, Edwards said urban and rural voters alike have expressed their desire for a “commonsense approach” to issues such as high housing costs and inflation.
“People are tired of political partisanship, and they want to see someone who can get things done,” Edwards told KSL-TV.
Maloy had a lead of roughly 3 percentage points in the count as of Wednesday, a margin of about 2,400 votes. That was up from about 1,400 votes earlier in the day.
Many more ballots remained to be counted, with roughly 30% of the total left to tally in the days following previous races.
Almost all ballots in Utah are cast by mail, and they can arrive as late as Sept. 19 as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
A third candidate, businessperson Bruce Hough, a committee member for the Republican National Committee for over a decade, trailed by a wide margin. A woman is therefore likely to win the office in the special general election on Nov. 21, with the GOP winner favored over Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe.
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 of his wife's illness He plans to step down Sept. 15 after a decade in office.
Mead Gruver, The Associated Press