Celeste Maloy, a former staffer for Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), has won the Republican primary in a special election to fill his seat after he resigns from Congress later this month. Maloy defeated former state Rep. Becky Edwards, who had been critical of former President Donald Trump, and former state party chair Bruce Hough in a close race.
Maloy secures rural votes
Maloy, who had the backing of the Utah Republican Party and Stewart himself, campaigned as the only candidate from rural southern Utah, which makes up a large part of the district. She emphasized her conservative values and her support for Trump, who remains popular among many GOP voters in the state.
Maloy overcame a controversy when her opponents tried to disqualify her from the ballot, claiming that she was not registered as a Republican in Utah when she filed to run for the seat. However, a judge ruled in her favor and allowed her to stay in the race.
Maloy performed well in the rural counties of the district, where she had strong connections and organized debates. She also benefited from a higher turnout in those areas compared to the urban parts of Salt Lake and Davis counties, where Edwards had an advantage.
Edwards faces backlash for voting for Biden
Edwards, who served in the state legislature from 2009 to 2018, ran as a “common-sense conservative” who could work across the aisle and represent all Utahns. She also criticized Trump for his divisive rhetoric and his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. She admitted that she voted for President Joe Biden in 2020, but later said she regretted it.
Edwards faced attacks from her rivals and some conservative groups for her anti-Trump stance and her vote for Biden. She also struggled to gain traction among the more rural and conservative voters of the district, who favored Maloy or Hough.
Edwards conceded the race on Wednesday night, after Maloy had a lead of over 2,000 votes with most of the ballots counted. She congratulated Maloy and thanked her supporters for their efforts.
Hough comes in third place
Hough, a businessman and the father of celebrity dancers Julianne and Derek Hough, came in third place in the primary. He ran as a moderate Republican who could appeal to independent and suburban voters. He also touted his experience as a former state party chair and a member of the Republican National Committee.
Hough did not take a clear position on Trump, saying that he agreed with some of his policies but not with his personality. He also said that he voted for Trump in 2020, but did not endorse him or attend his rallies.
Hough received some endorsements from prominent Utah Republicans, such as former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and former Sen. Bob Bennett. However, he failed to gain enough support from either the pro-Trump or the anti-Trump factions of the party.
Maloy faces easy path to victory in November
Maloy will face Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the general election on Nov. 21. Riebe, who represents a suburban district in Salt Lake County, did not have any primary challengers.
However, Maloy is heavily favored to win the seat, as the district is solidly Republican and has not elected a Democrat since 1980. The district became even more red after the latest round of redistricting, which added more rural areas and removed some urban ones.
Trump won the district by 17 points in 2020, while Stewart won by 28 points. Maloy is expected to easily replicate their margins or even improve them.