Apr 29, 2024 - News

Utah GOP convention sets up crowded Senate primary and gubernatorial challenge

An illustration of a hand holding up a ballot surrounded by ballot imagery.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

At the Utah GOP convention this weekend, a last-minute endorsement by former President Trump sent Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs to the Senate primary, while state Rep. Phil Lyman locked in his challenge to Gov. Spencer Cox.

Why it matters: The results demonstrate party loyalists' support for far-right Republicans over more moderate candidates, including incumbent Cox, ahead of the June 25 primary.

  • Given Utah's Republican lean, GOP primary winners are likely to win statewide races in November.

Driving the news: About 4,000 delegates convened Saturday at the event in downtown Salt Lake City.

  • Staggs, a two-term mayor of Riverton, and Lyman, who has represented the Blanding area since 2019, each received nearly 70% of delegates' support in the final round of voting.
  • Candidates needed at least 40% to advance to the primary ballot, if they did not opt to qualify via signature-gathering.

In the Senate race, Staggs joins a crowded primary featuring U.S. Rep. John Curtis, former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson and businessman Jason Walton in the primary to replace retiring Sen. Mitt Romney.

  • Staggs is considered the most conservative candidate in the race, with Trump calling him "100% MAGA" in a Truth Social post.
  • Curtis, Wilson and Walton took the signature-gathering route to appear on the ballot.

Catch up quick: Trump, a vocal Romney critic, endorsed Staggs hours before state delegates cast their votes, boosting the mayor's profile during the convention.

  • Staggs had already secured endorsements from two other Trump allies, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake.

In the governor's race, Lyman will face off against first-term Gov. Cox, after the incumbent received about 32% of delegate support. Cox has faced continued pressure from the right wing of his party while in office.

  • At the convention Lyman leaned into his arrest during an illegal ATV protest on federal land, KUER reported. (Trump pardoned Lyman for it in 2020.)

Reality check: While their votes help shape the state's most high-profile GOP primary races, state party delegates tend to skew further to the right than the state's Republican electorate.

In the races for Utah's 2nd and 1st Districts Incumbent U. S. Reps. Celeste Maloy and Blake Moore struggled to consolidate support at Saturday's convention.

  • Maloy, who succeeded her former boss Rep. Chris Stewart in a special election last year, narrowly escaped elimination after collecting about 43% of the vote.
  • Days prior, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee had endorsed her challenger Colby Jenkins, an Army veteran, who received almost 58% of the vote. Both candidates will appear on the ballot for Utah's 2nd Congressional District.
  • Moore, who joined Congress in 2021, will face electrician Paul Miller (55%) in the primary after collecting just 45% of the vote.
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