A Utah Republican who says she voted for President Joe Biden and is breaking the party line on abortion is running to represent Utah’s 2nd congressional district in Tuesday’s little-watched special election — opening up the possibility to become a wildcard member of the House of Representatives GOP caucus.
The race could put former US Senate nominee Becky Edwards on the glide path and become the only Republican in the House of Representatives to say she didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2020. Edwards would be an extreme outlier in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Republicans strongly side with the former president.
Edwards outdid one survey in early August The three-man GOP primary field, conducted by Mormon-affiliated Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and released Monday, drew national attention to her campaign. It’s the only public poll on the race to date, and found nearly half of those polled were undecided on whether to support Edwards, RNC committee member Bruce Hough or attorney Celeste Maloy. The victor goes to a general election against Democratic State Senator Kathleen Riebe.
Edwards is succeeding Republican Chris Stewart, who is stepping down this month in the middle of his sixth term due to his wife’s health problems. His resignation announcement in May sparked a special election for a seat in the House of Representatives, stretching from Utah’s southwest corner north to Salt Lake City.
Since GOP gerrymandering eliminated Utah’s only viable House seat in 2022, competition for Stewart’s safe Republican seat had largely stayed under the radar.
But Utah’s second district could end up electing one of the most interesting new members of the lower chamber: a Republican who expressed concern about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade and openly urged Republicans to vote for someone other than Trump to vote—though neither is a problem Edwards focuses on voters in a district that encompasses much of ultraconservative rural Utah.
During their 2022 primary against conservative hardliner Mike Lee, Edwards said she saw it “There’s no compelling reason why we need to retest Roe vs. Wade.” Edwards was, too secretly recorded They express concern about a triggering law that bans nearly all abortions. Edwards told the Salt Lake City Tribune editorial board that she believes in the “sacredness of life.”
The paper too reported that Edwards encouraged Republicans to dump Trump in 2020 and said that unlike her opponent Lee, she believes Trump deserved it because of his role in instigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack to be charged in 2021. She later told it Bloomberg that Utah voters just want to “move on” from Trump.
Her opponents and political observers warned against reading too much into the single poll that found Edwards 20 points ahead of the rest of the field, citing her notoriety and poor poll timing. A rep for Hough, the RNC member, called it a “garbage survey” with stale results, while Maloy, a former attorney in Stewart’s congressional office who won the support one of the Utah Republican Party delegates said their own support is “real and growing.”
A full 47% of respondents were undecided, a sign that many had not yet paid attention to the race. The poll ended on August 14th, a day before voters received their ballots. Utah is one of the few states that mails a ballot to every active voter.
Hough, whose own campaign claims he is the leader in an internal poll, has attacked the voting records of all his opponents. writing on social media that he is the “only candidate in this race who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020”. Maloy’s campaign team did not respond to a request for comment on her voting result and the race in general.
“I think there may be a little misunderstanding about what kind of Republican Becky is [Edwards] Is.”
– Chelsea Robarge Fife, Edwards Campaign Communications Director
Edwards’ campaign brushed aside that she wasn’t thoroughly conservative because she didn’t support Trump, citing her decade in the Utah House of Representatives, where she chaired the Economic Development Committee and helped balance the state budget during the last recession.
“I think there may be a little misunderstanding about what kind of Republican Becky is,” Chelsea Robarge Fife, the campaign’s communications director, told HuffPost. “Because she’s been in the Utah House of Representatives for ten years, she has a record that shows where she stands and how she votes, and that’s very conservative.”
your campaign lists a host of priorities – none of them are MAGA encoded. This includes viewing immigration “as a challenging issue that deserves sensitivity and nuance” and recognizing that climate change “poses both opportunities and challenges for our state.”
Robarge Fife said voters were most concerned about the economy and inflation. “People are really worried about the cost of everything. It’s something we hear everywhere,” she said.
Matthew Burbank, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, said Edwards likely beat her opponents in the poll because of her career as a lawmaker and her notoriety from her Senate campaign, in which she received 30% of the vote against Lee. Maloy probably had more appeal with the Utah GOP delegates because of her association with Stewart, who endorsed her as his successor.
“Becky Edwards is definitely a better-known politician, even if she wasn’t as popular with delegates because they didn’t see her as conservative enough,” he said.
Still, Utah is not necessarily a MAGA state, Burbank said. He called Utah Republicans — who voted for both Lee, a Trump antagonist and ally, and Romney, the only Senate Republican who didn’t vote for Trump — “conservative in the older sense of what that meant.” He also pointed to the influence of former CIA agent Evan McMullin, a protest candidate who launched an independent presidential campaign in 2016 and another for the US Senate in 2022 to siphon votes from Trump and Lee, respectively.
“Trump didn’t do well in the 2016 primary … and he didn’t do particularly well in the general election,” Burbank said. “Trump did better in 2020, but he also didn’t carry the state with the numbers we would expect from an incumbent Republican.”