July 21st, 2024

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox beats challenger in Republican primary election

By Hannah Schoenbaum, The Associated Press on June 25, 2024.

PROVO, Utah (AP) – Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is likely to win a second term after he beat his primary challenger on Tuesday.

Cox, a moderate Republican who took office in 2021, prevailed in the primary after he was booed earlier this year by GOP convention delegates, who tend to lean farther right. Utah’s more muted Republican electorate chose Cox over state Rep. Phil Lyman, a former county commissioner turned state legislator who espoused false claims of election fraud following the 2020 presidential election.

Cox will face Democratic nominee Brian King, a state representative, in November. The Republican incumbent is heavily favored to win in a state that hasn’t had a Democrat in the governor’s office since 1985.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

PROVO, Utah (AP) – U.S. Rep. John Curtis has won the Utah GOP primary for Mitt Romney’s open U.S. Senate seat, defeating one opponent who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and others who said they supported Trump’s agenda.

The 64-year-old congressman lost the official party nod at the state GOP convention but won as expected Tuesday after he qualified for the primary ballot by gathering signatures. That route to victory has become common for more moderate Republicans who do better in primaries when the state’s more muted Republican electorate gets its say.

Curtis is highly favored to win in November over Democratic nominee Caroline Gleich in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.

He has been compared to Romney for pushing back against hard-liners in his party, particularly on climate change.

Curtis defeated Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who was little known outside his Salt Lake City suburb before the Trump’s endorsement gave him a boost. But Trump’s support was not enough to beat the more moderate Curtis in Utah, a rare Republican stronghold that has only half-heartedly embraced Trump.

The former president’s brash style and comments about refugees and immigrants do not sit well with many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known widely as the Mormon church, who make up about half of the state’s 3.4 million residents.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

PROVO, Utah (AP) – Republican voters in Utah will decide on Tuesday whether the state’s most famous moderate conservative, retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, will be succeeded by someone similarly willing to challenge GOP hard-liners or a farther-right candidate who pledges to fall in line with former President Donald Trump.

The primary duel between GOP factions will test whether Trump’s influence and appeal have grown among Republican voters in Utah, a rare Republican stronghold that half-heartedly embraced the former president in past elections.

A suburban mayor, Trent Staggs, who rode Trump’s endorsement to a GOP convention nomination for Romney’s seat, is hoping it will also propel him past U.S. Rep. John Curtis, the more moderate front-runner in Tuesday’s primary.

Curtis has pitched himself as the alternative to Staggs, the mayor Riverton, and two other contenders who have spent much of the race arguing over whose policy positions most closely align with Trump’s.

Curtis, the former mayor of Provo who started out as a county-level Democratic Party official, is the only Republican in the race who has not outright endorsed Trump’s reelection bid. He has been compared to Romney for pushing back against more extreme members of his party, particularly on climate change.

At a polling location in Heber City, tucked between sprawling ranches in the Wasatch Mountains, a steady trickle of voters dropped off their ballots Tuesday afternoon.

Erica Goulding said she voted for Staggs even though she isn’t a big fan of Trump. Both Trump and President Joe Biden are “not good people,” she said, and their support for a candidate has little impact on how she votes. The Heber City resident said she decided to back Staggs because he has spoken out against what she considers overregulation, namely the COVID-19 lockdowns, and has a track record of lowering taxes in the suburb he leads.

“Staggs is the true conservative in the race,” Goulding said. “I just want change, not another Mitt Romney.”

Another candidate for the seat, former state House Speaker Brad Wilson, has the financial advantage after loaning his campaign $3 million. He was considered a strong contender before a loss to Staggs at the April convention relegated him to a long shot in the primary. Jason Walton, who has pitched himself as a businessman in the style of Trump, is also running.

Curtis could get a further boost if supporters of the former president split between Staggs, Wilson and Walton.

The Republican primary winner is highly favored to win in November over Democratic nominee Caroline Gleich in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.

Gov. Spencer Cox is also set to face his primary challenger, state Rep. Phil Lyman, on Tuesday.

Cox, a moderate Republican who took office in 2021, is expected to win even after he was booed earlier this year by GOP convention delegates, who tend to lean farther right. Lyman is a former county commissioner turned state legislator who espoused false claims of election fraud following the 2020 presidential election.

Lyman is best known for organizing an illegal ATV ride in 2014 to protest federal officials closing a southeast Utah canyon to motorized vehicles to protect Native American cliff dwellings, artifacts and burial sites. He argued the closure constituted overreach by the federal government.

A judge in 2015 sentenced Lyman to 10 days in jail and three years of probation after a jury found him guilty of misdemeanor illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy. Trump later pardoned him in December 2020.

Retired teachers Russ Olsen and his wife Sandra Olsen said they see land and water rights as the most important issues in Utah. The couple from Heber City voted for Lyman, and for Staggs in the Senate race, because those candidates have promised to fight against the federal government encroaching on Utah’s natural resources.

“Lyman would protect the water rights of the individual, rights that are being taken away from us,” Russ Olsen said. “I believe that the federal government really shouldn’t be owning state land. It should belong to the states, to the people.”

The winner of the Republican primary for governor is heavily favored to win in November over Democratic nominee Brian King, a state representative.

Also Tuesday, five Republicans are battling for the open 3rd District U.S. House seat that Curtis is vacating to run for Senate.

In Utah’s 2nd District, Trump-backed U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy is seeking her first full term on Capitol Hill after winning a special election last fall. She faces challenger Colby Jenkins, a retired U.S. Army officer and telecommunications specialist, who is endorsed by Romney’s counterpart, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee.

Primaries will be held Tuesday for other state and national offices, including the 1st District U.S. House seat, attorney general, state auditor, state Senate, state House and state Board of Education.

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