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Ex-aide, Biden voter and Trump backer vie in Utah GOP primary

Poll found most voters undecided in race for Stewart sucessor

Becky Edwards, a former state legislator vying in Utah's 2nd District GOP primary, topped two opponents in fundraising.
Becky Edwards, a former state legislator vying in Utah's 2nd District GOP primary, topped two opponents in fundraising. (Handout/Becky Edwards for Congress)

For the first time in a decade, Republicans will be hungrily watching Utah’s 2nd District on Tuesday to find out which of the three candidates vying for outgoing appropriator Rep. Chris Stewart’s seat will be favored to win in November. 

The race pits a former aide to Stewart against a former state party chairman whose children have starred on reality TV, and a 10-year state legislator who voted for President Joe Biden and has gotten financial support from an environmental group. 

Stewart, the six-term fiscal conservative and a frequent critic of big government who had been weighing a possible challenge to Sen. Mitt Romney’s seat in 2024, said he will step down on Sept. 15, citing his wife Evie Stewart’s health issues. His seat will be empty until the general election on Nov. 21, further reducing the House GOP’s majority.

Three candidates — Celeste Maloy, Stewart’s former legal counsel; Becky Edwards, a former state legislator; and Bruce Hough, a former Utah Republican Party chair and businessman — are vying in the special primary that had its fair share of controversy. 

Of the Beehive State’s four districts, the 2nd District sprawls over a dozen counties, from a portion of the urban, mountainous capital of Salt Lake City to the rural red-rock home of the nation’s third-most popular national park, Zion National Park. 

A Republican stronghold even after 2020 redistricting ceded portions of Salt Lake City to Rep. Blake D. Moore and part of rural central Utah to Rep. Burgess Owens, the district in its current configuration would have backed Donald Trump by more than 17 percentage points in 2020. However, the district has a legacy of flipping parties, with Stewart’s predecessor being Democrat Jim Matheson.

With two women running in the primary and the Democratic nominee in the general being Kathleen Reibe, a Utah legislator, it’s plausible that a woman could take the seat for the first time since Enid Greene in the late 1990s. 

Registration questioned

Maloy has come under fire for having an inactive Utah voter registration when she filed to run. She did not vote in the state’s 2020 or 2022 elections and was on a list to be removed from the rolls. The most recent evidence that she lived in Utah before the campaign dated to 2018, before she took the job in Stewart’s office and relocated to the Washington area a year later. 

She updated her voter registration three days after filing for candidacy, and now is fighting a lawsuit from a defeated rival at the party convention arguing that her inactive voter registration when she filed to run made her ineligible for the primary. A Utah judge denied a request in late July to remove her name from the ballot while the litigation plays out.

Maloy was the Republican convention’s pick and is the only candidate Stewart has endorsed. He said she “is a strong conservative woman with Utah values and the one person in the race I know for certain is ready to serve on day one.” Former Utah Rep. Rob Bishop also endorsed Maloy.

Maloy is from rural southern Utah, a far cry from the district’s typical candidate from the more urban center of the Wasatch Front near Salt Lake City. With a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Southern Utah University and a law degree from Brigham Young University, Maloy spent much of her career involved with public lands policy and litigation before going to the Hill.

Biden voter with EDF support

Facing Maloy is Edwards, who spent a decade in the Utah House of Representatives chartering a moderate course that balanced fiscal conservatism as the chair of the Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee with being a supporter of climate change action and anti-Trumpism. Edwards voted for Biden in 2020.

As a legislator, Edwards sponsored a resolution on environmental and economic stewardship that formally recognized climate change and led to the creation of a University of Utah roadmap to assist with policymaking to improve air quality and address climate change. 

Utah has long been plagued with drought and poor air quality issues, making environmental and public lands policy central to the district’s priorities.

Last year, she ran a failed campaign for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Mike Lee, calling him ineffective and out of touch. 

Edwards received her bachelor’s, master’s and master’s of social work degrees from BYU with a focus on marriage and family therapy.

The final rival is Hough, a former state chair of the Republican Party and the father of “Dancing with the Stars” siblings Julianne and Derek Hough, who spent his career as a businessman that included nutritional supplement manufacturing and distribution and satellite communications. Hough currently serves on the Utah Marriage Commission and is the managing partner of a leadership development business. 

Hough graduated from Ricks College with a journalism degree and received a bachelor’s degree in management from BYU.

Hough is loyal to Trump, saying in a recent debate he would support a pardon.

A Deseret News and Hinkley Institute of Politics poll from early August found nearly half of 2nd District voters were undecided, but Edwards was the favorite among those who made a choice.

In a debate, both Hough and Maloy said that the four indictments against Trump were politically motivated and they supported cutting funding for federal agencies. Maloy said she supported a federal ban on abortion. Hough, who also opposes abortion rights, said it should be controlled by states. Edwards did not attend any debates.

Edwards has led the field in fundraising in the only disclosure so far to the Federal Election Commission. She raised nearly $680,000 and had the most cash on hand as of Aug. 16, with about $228,000. Her total includes $30,000 that she loaned to her campaign.

Edwards’ record as a legislator also led EDF Action Votes, an affiliate of the Environmental Defense Fund, to spend $100,000 on polling, direct mail and digital ads to support her.

Hough brought in nearly $539,000 and had about $85,000 left as of Aug. 16. But more than half of his total receipts came from the roughly $335,000 he loaned to his campaign.

Maloy raised about $307,000 and had about $90,000 left. With $55,000, she took in the most from political committees, including $5,000 from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association PAC, plus donations from leadership PACs of GOP members including Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter of Georgia and Diana Harshbarger of Tennessee. Maloy also has the backing of Stewart.

Maloy also benefited from $50,000 in independent spending by Duty Service Honor PAC, while a group called To Form a More Perfect Union spent $38,000 backing Hough. 

Though election day is timed to be the day after Labor Day, Utah is known for embracing mail-in voting and ballots were sent out to eligible voters weeks ago.

Daniela Altimari contributed to this report.

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