Candidates clash on 2020 election, water and abortion in Utah’s 2nd Congressional debate
Incumbent Republican Rep. Chris Stewart faced Democratic candidate Nick Mitchell and Constitution Party nominee Cassie Easley on Oct. 14 at Southern Utah University. The debate for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District was organized by the Utah Debate Commission and moderated by Boyd Matheson of KSL NewsRadio.
United Utah Party candidate Jay McFarland is also on the ballot in the district, but did not participate in this debate.
All four of Utah’s current representatives are running for re-election. Stewart has been in office since 2013 and is running for a sixth term. But compared to the other three districts, recent polls show Stewart with the smallest lead over his Democratic challenger.
Still, Stewart is up by 19 points over Mitchell, and FiveThirtyEight forecasts he is “very likely” to win the November election and keep his seat in Congress.
Utah’s 2nd Congressional District covers Salt Lake, most of the western side of the state and parts of Southern Utah, including St. George.
The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol wrapped up its hearings this week. Stewart voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania.
During the debate, Mitchell pointed to Stewart’s actions surrounding Jan. 6, 2021.
“On January 6th, we had an opportunity to do the right thing, the truthful thing. And he [Stewart] chose not to certify the election. Even after the Capitol was stormed, he chose not to do it,” Mitchell said. “I think that speaks to a lot about truth.”
Stewart called what Mitchell said “nonsense.”
“If you're going to make that kind of an accusation, which is essentially treason, you should understand for sure if it's true or not,” Stewart said.
Stewart said that on Jan. 6 he only objected to the results in Pennsylvania and was not trying to overturn the entire presidential election.
Two days before the Jan. 6 vote, Stewart tweeted that he would not certify the election and he believed there were “critical questions that need to be answered concerning our Presidential election.” In that Twitter thread, Stewart did not say his concerns were specifically about Pennsylvania.
Water and Drought
Following a question posed by a Southern Utah University student, the candidates reflected on how the federal government could help Western states with the ongoing drought and whether there are problems with the Colorado River Compact.
Stewart and Easley both defended the Colorado River Compact because of the amount of water it allocates to the state. Both candidates also mentioned the importance of water to farmers, ranchers and alfalfa crops.
Mitchell said the Colorado River Compact is a good start, but that there needs to be a cultural shift in how Utahns and elected officials think about water.
“We live in a desert. It is time we start acting like it,” he said.
Stewart and Mitchell were again divided on the topic of abortion.
Mitchell said while the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade allowed states to decide on abortion, only a handful of legislators were the ones that passed Utah’s abortion trigger law. He believed citizens should be allowed an opportunity to vote on Utah’s laws, like in Kansas.
“So when it comes to abortion, I want everyone to know that I am for a woman being able to make that choice,” Mitchell said.
Stewart said he was pro-life, and claimed that the Democratic Party would support abortions up until the moment of birth.
“I just feel like it was important to make and highlight the just an unbelievable moral stand that some have taken on that issue,” Stewart said.
Easley chimed in saying she is against people having abortions.
“But I am for women being able to make choices. You should choose not to have sex because it does cause pregnancy,” she said.
Stewart used the beginning of his closing statement, which came directly after the question on the Supreme Court’s rulings, to reiterate his stance on abortion.