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Utah Democrats see an opportunity with state Republican infighting

Special congressional election for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District
Sean Higgins
Delegates in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District picked Celeste Maloy as their primary nominee for the special congressional election to replace U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart on June 24, 2023. Since then, fellow Utah Republicans have raised concerns about Maloy’s eligibility to represent the party.

Republican delegates in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District selected Celeste Maloy as their nominee to replace U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart. Maloy’s win has faced criticism within the party with some questioning her eligibility.

The Utah Democratic Party sees this as an opportunity and is highlighting the Republican divide. Ben Anderson, the party’s communications director, said the disagreement in the Republican Party gives their candidate, state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, an advantage.

“While the Republicans are going to spend the next two months beating each other up, we have that time to start preparing,” he said. “Start getting boots on the ground, talking to voters, and actually getting down to the issues that matter to the people of the district.”

It also helps, according to Anderson, that there is only one Democrat running for CD2 at this point, unlike the Republican Party.

“It definitely provides an opportunity for us as Democrats to spend the next few months hitting the ground running, while Republicans are still just talking to their base, they're talking to themselves, they're not going to be talking to independent persuadable voters,” he said.

Republicans Becky Edwards and Bruce Hough went the signature-gathering route and submitted those to the Lt. Gov’s office. Becky Edwards officially qualified to appear on the ballot July 7, and Hough’s signatures now await verification.

Infighting during a primary isn’t a new phenomenon.

Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the infighting within the state GOP “doesn’t help.” But he isn’t convinced it’ll wreck Maloy’s — or any Republicans’ — chance at making it to Washington.

“Is it going to hurt the Republicans? Probably not in the overall election cycle,” Perry said. “But it does give ammunition to the Democrats in this particular case, which they are already trying to capitalize on.”

Even if they weren’t questioning Maloy’s eligibility, Perry said other candidates would find something else to use for ammunition. However, he added the CD2 election is unique because the Democrats can argue that the “Republican Party is not unified, either in their candidate or even in their process,” and they can use that as a big talking point up until the Sept. 5 primary election.

As the party chair of the Utah Republican Party, Rob Axson has been in the middle of the Maloy controversy. But he submitted her name to the Lt. Gov’s Office as the one convention nominee backed by the party.

“We invite all Republicans and voters in CD2 to get to know Celeste and join us in supporting her,” Axson said.

He said the party is “committed to fair, honest and transparent dialogue,” even if those discussions are tough. If Republicans aren’t currently unified behind Maloy, Axson added “the platform and principles of the Utah Republican Party are unifying and are focused on the pro-family, pro-liberty and pro-opportunity policies Utahns deserve.”

At the end of the day, Perry isn’t convinced that the problems of the Republican Party now will be the “deciding factor for Republican voters or voters in general,” come the Nov. 21 general election.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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