Voters in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District will vote Tuesday to decide who will fill the only current vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives, in a special election just days before Thanksgiving.
The House has lost one member since Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) resigned from Congress in September after six terms in the lower chamber, citing health concerns for his wife.
Now Democratic Sen. Kathleen Riebe and Republican Celeste Maloy, a former Stewart staffer, are vying to succeed him in the state’s special election and return the House to 435 seats.
The solidly red district isn’t expected to see a major upset in the contest, but voter turnout and the breakdown of final results could reveal new insights about the Hive State.
“I think the election results will be important in telling us how competitive this district could actually be,” said Damon Cann, chair of the political science department at Utah State University.
Maloy, who worked for Stewart as his district’s chief legal adviser and has the ex-lawmaker’s backing to replace him, won the Republican primary in September to secure the nomination, defeating the man affairs Bruce Hough and former state Rep. Becky Edwards in a trio of three. path competition.
Maloy has the advantage of running with a connection to Stewart in the solidly red state, but she was also subject to some scrutiny over her status as an inactive voter when she launched her campaign — she didn’t voted in the 2020 or 2022 elections., according to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune.
The district, which spans part of the western and southern parts of the state, as well as northern Salt Lake City, is expected to be a tough one for Democrats to take.
But even if Riebe doesn’t pull off a surprise victory in the House race, a strong showing from the Democrat could give the party more momentum in the state, Cann said.
“A lot of the assumption is that this will just be another Republican victory in the Second District,” he said. “The question becomes: If it’s a little closer than expected: with a little more effort, with a little better funding and a little better support, would this become the seat to compete for?”
Stewart won the seat in 2012 over Democrat Jim Matheson, who had held the position since 2000.
In last November’s midterm elections, Stewart cruised to re-election, fending off a Democratic challenger by about 25 percentage points. Utah’s other three House seats are also held by Republican lawmakers, as are the state’s two Senate seats.
Former President Trump won the state handily in 2016 and 2020. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report assigns each specific district a partisan voting index, which measures the performance of individual districts in presidential elections, from R+11.
If Maloy wins, it’s a signal to “stay the course” from voters, as the Republican should “advocate for similar policies and present a similar set of interests” as her former boss, Cann added .
Tuesday’s elections come two weeks after Republican candidates lost several key elections in the 2023 elections, sandwiched between last year’s midterm elections – also a successful night for Democrats – and the presidential election next year.
Democrats won big in states like Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio, and their defeats caused discord at the third Republican Party debate in Miami, just a day after the results were announced. Some candidates have expressed frustration with the party’s record in recent cycles.
Nathaniel Rakich, senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight, noted in an analysis that Democrats also performed “exceptionally well” in the special election and suggested that Utah Republicans “might be a little scared” on Tuesday if this strength persists.
Rakich pointed to a Lighthouse Research poll released in early October that found Maloy leading by just 9 points among registered voters in the state.
But Maloy has the fundraising edge. She brought in nearly $590,000 between early April and late October, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, while Riebe brought in nearly $300,000.
“Over the past five months since this race began, Democrats across the state have been motivated and inspired by the incredibly strong grassroots campaign led by Senator Riebe, promoting an agenda that prioritizes the freedom of Utahn,” said Utah Democratic spokesman Ben Anderson.
“Whatever the outcome” of Tuesday’s vote, Anderson said, the state party is confident the final results will reflect how Riebe’s message “resonated strongly with voters of all political affiliations.”
Riebe said in a statement that “as I’ve traveled the district, voters are ready for a change — and I have confidence in their choice.”
The Hill also reached out to the Utah GOP for comment.
Jordan Giles, Maloy’s campaign spokesman, told Hill that the Republican candidate’s “conservative message of fighting federal government excesses and reining in spending resonated with voters” and said he hoped that “we will see the fruits of these efforts on election night.”
The winner of Tuesday’s Beehive State special election will join Utah GOP Reps. Blake Moore, John Curtis and Burgess Owens.
Stewart is the second Utah congressman in the last six years to leave office before his term expires, according to the Associated Press. In 2017, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) resigned after nine years in office, triggering a special election. Curtis won the off-year race to replace him, then secured his first full term in the 2018 midterms.
Utah polls are scheduled to close at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.
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