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June 11, 2024

Utah Republican Contenders for Romney's Senate Seat Debate

Four Utah Republicans vying to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Mitt Romney squared off in a crucial debate on Monday evening. This debate marks a pivotal moment for voters to assess which type of conservative leadership resonates most statewide.

The debate is a highlight in a busy week of primary debates, spotlighting the continuing impact of former President Donald Trump in Utah-a traditionally red state that has shown some resistance to his influence. Trump's last-minute endorsement of a relatively unknown mayor played a decisive role in the mayor securing the party nomination at the April convention, outpacing nearly a dozen rivals.

Romney's departure opens a significant opportunity for the GOP to redefine its political stance in the Senate. Known for his more moderate views, Romney's retirement may shift the balance towards candidates with a stronger alignment to conservative ideologies akin to Utah's other U.S. senator, Trump ally Mike Lee.

Moderate U.S. Representative John Curtis is currently viewed as the frontrunner heading into the June 25 primary. However, convention winner Trent Staggs and former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, both of whom have expressed support for Trump, represent potential shifts towards a more right-leaning agenda in Utah politics post-Romney.

Curtis, Wilson, and businessman Jason Walton had already secured their spots on the primary ballot through signature gathering prior to the convention. They joined Staggs on the debate stage for what promises to be a decisive clash of political visions.

Trent Staggs, 49, has built his campaign by directly appealing to state GOP delegates and seeking endorsements from Trump and his nationwide allies. As the mayor of Riverton, a suburb near Salt Lake City, Staggs was the first to announce his candidacy for the Senate, even before Romney declared he would not run again. Despite his convention win, the historical tendency of Utah voters suggests that party nominations may not strongly influence primary results.

John Curtis, often compared to Romney for his moderate stances-especially on issues like climate change-has attempted to differentiate himself from the retiring senator while vying for his seat. At 63, Curtis, a Republican congressman and former mayor of Provo, initiated his political journey as a Democratic county official. Now the longest-serving member of Utah's U.S. House delegation, Curtis touts his understanding of Capitol Hill's inner workings as a key advantage over his competitors.

Brad Wilson, with endorsements from Governor Spencer Cox and other top state officials, claims to have the most significant impact on Utah through his leadership in state legislation. As House Speaker, Wilson managed tax cuts and budget discussions, experiences he argues will enable him to counter federal overspending effectively. Wilson, 55, promotes plans to ease federal regulations, which he contends obstruct local authorities from detaining undocumented immigrants.

The Republican primary winner will face Democrat Caroline Gleich, a mountaineer and environmental advocate, in the November election. Utah has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1970, posing a significant challenge for Gleich.

Earlier on Monday, U.S. Representative Celeste Maloy defended her brief congressional tenure in a debate against challenger Colby Jenkins. Maloy, who is seeking her first full term representing Utah's 2nd District after a special election win last fall, was criticized by Jenkins for her bipartisan approach, which he portrayed as yielding to Democratic agendas.

Jenkins, a retired U.S. Army officer and telecommunications expert, narrowly won over Maloy at the party convention with Senator Lee's endorsement but did not achieve a sufficient margin to bypass the primary. Jenkins used the debate to advocate for Trump's return to the presidency, while Maloy defended her support for several bipartisan spending bills. The victor in this primary will compete against Democratic nominee Nathaniel Woodward, a family law attorney, in the upcoming November election.

Republican candidates for governor, attorney general, and Curtis' soon-to-be-vacant U.S. House seat will continue the week's debates on Tuesday and Wednesday, further shaping Utah's political landscape.

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