Celeste Maloy (right) beat former state Rep. Becky Edwards and former state party chair Bruce Hough (left) for the nomination. | Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Utah Republicans blocked an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump from the nomination for soon-to-be-vacant UT-02.
Instead, they nominated Celeste Maloy to succeed Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who is resigning from Congress later this month to care for his ailing wife. Maloy, a former aide to Stewart, beat former state Rep. Becky Edwards and former state party chair Bruce Hough, who came in second and third, respectively.
It was a neck-and-neck battle between Maloy and Edwards. On Tuesday night, Edwards started with an early lead. But Maloy pulled ahead as the more southern rural parts of the state reported their totals. The Associated Press called the election on Wednesday evening, with Maloy ahead by over 2,000 votes.
Maloy had the backing of the Utah Republican Party. She spent much of her campaign introducing herself as the only candidate from rural southern Utah — a message that ultimately drew voters in.
“As I’ve said throughout this race, I will represent the entire district,” Maloy said in a statement on Wednesday night. “There will not be an area, a county, or a community in this district that will have anything less than my full attention as your representative in Congress.”
Edwards, who has been critical of the former president, had name ID from an unsuccessful challenge against Trump ally Sen. Mike Lee last year. She cast herself as a “common-sense conservative,” but she faced attacks for voting for President Joe Biden in 2020. She later said she regrets supporting him, but it didn’t seem to hold much water with voters who voted to reelect Trump in 2020.
UT-02 is a sweeping district that covers Democratic-leaning Salt Lake City, as well as swaths of rural land in the southern and western part of the state. Following the latest round of redistricting, the district — which was already a Trump stronghold — became slightly redder. Trump’s advantage there is around 17 points.
Trump historically hasn’t had the strongest standing in Utah. Sen. Mitt Romney is a top Trump critic, and Maloy’s victory over Edwards may give him pause as he considers running for reelection in 2024.
Maloy overcame controversy when opponents unsuccessfully tried to kick her off the ballot after they learned that she wasn’t registered to vote as a Republican in Utah when she filed to run for the seat.
Given the makeup of the district, Maloy faces a clear path to victory come the Nov. 21 general election. She’ll be facing off against Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, whose primary was uncontested, and a handful of third-party candidates.