Former House aide Celeste Maloy held a narrow lead over former state Rep. Becky Edwards in the Republican special primary in Utah’s 2nd District that will likely decide who fills Republican Rep. Chris Stewart’s seat. But the race was too close to call early Wednesday.
Maloy had 38 percent to Edwards’ 36 percent, but her lead was only about 1,400 votes when The Associated Press said it would wait for late-arriving votes before calling the race. Businessman and former state party chair Bruce Hough, whose children appeared on “Dancing with the Stars,” had 26 percent.
Almost all votes in Utah are cast by mail and ballots are counted as late as Sept. 19 if cast by election day. Utah has counted about 30 percent of votes after the day of the election in past races, the AP said in an advisory.
“Voting might be over but counting still is ongoing,” Edwards said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “We’re going to keep watching and waiting and we’ll see you in the morning!”
The winner of the primary will face state Sen. Kathleen Reibe, who won a Democratic convention in June and did not face a primary, as well as five independent candidates. But the Republican nominee is heavily favored to fill the seat in a special general election on Nov. 21.
Stewart, a six-term fiscal conservative and frequent critic of big government, had been weighing a possible challenge to Republican Sen. Mitt Romney next year. Instead he decided he will step down on Sept. 15, citing health issues experienced by his wife, Evie Stewart.
Maloy worked as counsel to Stewart in his Washington office, and he endorsed her. She faces litigation trying to remove her from the ballot because of an inactive Utah Republican voter registration in the state when she filed to run. Edwards was a 10-year state legislator who voted for Democrat Joe Biden and got financial support from an environmental group.
A Republican stronghold even after redistricting in 2021 ceded portions of Salt Lake City to GOP Rep. Blake D. Moore and part of rural central Utah to GOP 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 also has a legacy of flipping parties, with Stewart’s predecessor being Democrat Jim Matheson.
Early results show a distinct divide between urban and rural counties, with rural voters sticking behind their southern Utah hometown hero Maloy and urban voters, who tend to lean left, supporting their northern Utah moderate Edwards.
Either way, the winner would become the only woman in Utah’s congressional delegation and the fifth in the state’s history.
Edwards led the field in fundraising in the only pre-primary disclosure 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.