In a surprise win, delegates at the Utah Republican Party’s nominating convention Saturday selected Celeste Maloy as the party’s nominee for the 2nd Congressional District’s special election to replace retiring Rep. Chris Stewart. 

Maloy, who was the chief legal counsel in Stewart’s Washington, D.C., office before resigning to run, was endorsed by Stewart and by former Congressman Rob Bishop, which helped her get ahead of some of the other, better known candidates.

After her win, Maloy looked happy but surprised.

“The feeling is completely surreal,” she told the Deseret News. “It’s been a short race, a really fast race. I’ve worked hard, I’ve called delegates, I’ve put in the work and they responded to it.”

Maloy said her pitch to the delegates was, “I want to represent you. I’m going to go work for you. I am CD2 and I’m not going to forget that.”

Maloy won in the fifth round of voting. She trailed former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who was considered a favorite to win the nomination, by at least four points in the first four rounds of voting. That all changed when former Utah GOP vice chairman and 3rd place candidate Jordan Hess endorsed Maloy after he was eliminated in the fourth round, leading to a raucous standing ovation from many in the audience. 

From the first round of voting, Maloy had a surprisingly good showing for being relatively unknown before the special election, receiving 24.1% of delegate votes to Hughes’ 28.5%.

The gap widened during subsequent rounds as many delegates switched their votes from candidates who were eliminated to Hughes, whose 15 years in the statehouse, including three as speaker, and a 2020 gubernatorial bid gave him high name recognition. 

Utah 2nd District candidate Celeste Maloy may still face a primary election for a spot in the general election to replace Rep. Chris Stewart.
Utah Congressional 2nd District candidate Celeste Maloy speaks after winning the nomination during the Utah Republican Party’s special election at Delta High School in Delta on June 24, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

However, after Maloy reminded the delegates of her endorsement from Stewart, and after she received the backing of Hess — seen as one of the more conservative candidates given his work as Sen. Mike Lee’s campaign manager and at the Heritage Foundation — Maloy surpassed Hughes in the fifth round of voting, winning the party’s nomination with 52.1% of the vote compared to Hughes’ 47.9%. 

When asked to explain his endorsement of Maloy, which was pivotal in her win, Hess said it had to do with why he chose to run in the first place.

“I’ve said from the very beginning that this district should be represented from someone from within the district and more so it’s important that southern Utah has representation. That’s why I got in this race, that was my number one priority, southern and rural representation in the district — that is why,” Hess said.

Maloy currently lives in Cedar City and she began her legal career in Washington County. Hughes does not live in the district.

Shortly after his loss, Hughes told the Deseret News, “I love the delegate cycle. I love these delegates. I know we all worked and made our best case and we just heard them speak. It’s liberating when you feel like you’ve done all you can and they vote and that’s the result, I can live with it. It’s a high information election cycle so it’s your best shot to not be misunderstood or misrepresented and you give it a go and delegates speak.”

The convention was held in the Delta High School gym and was hosted by the Utah Republican Party. Nearly 80% of the 947 2nd Congressional District delegates attended the event, significantly more than the number who attended the party’s organizing convention two months ago.

Unlike regular GOP nominating conventions, in which two candidates may advance to a primary election, state statute requires that only one candidate emerge from party conventions during a special election. This resulted in the party changing its bylaws to allow for a winner to emerge once a candidate received a majority of the vote.

The impact of this rule change is far reaching. For the past few elections, candidates have had the option to gather signatures — they need 7,000 in the case of congressional elections — to have their names placed on a primary ballot. However, given the compressed timeline of a special election it is uncertain whether candidates will be able to secure the necessary number before the July 5 deadline in order to challenge Maloy in the GOP primary election.

Two Republican candidates of the original 13 who filed for candidacy were disqualified from the race prior to Saturday’s convention. Maloy’s win resulted in the elimination of another 7 candidates who had put all their faith in the convention process to advance them to the general election, leaving just four candidates with a possible route forward.

However, if none are able to navigate the time- and resource-intensive process of signature gathering in time to make the July cut off, then Maloy will advance unopposed to a general election.

“If there is no primary (Maloy) will be the candidate from the GOP nominating convention” in the general election, Rob Axson, state Republican Party chairman, said.

The outcome of Saturday’s convention will also be of interest to national GOP leadership, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy eager to fill Stewart’s seat with a Republican who will demonstrate the same willingness to work with him as Stewart did, given his tenuous hold on his conference, which holds a narrow 10 seat majority in the House.

The candidates who are working to collect signatures to challenge Maloy in the primary are Becky Edwards, who was a state lawmaker for 10 years and challenged Lee for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary last year, and Bruce Hough, who serves on the Republican National Committee and is the cofounder of Nutraceutical Corporation. He also served two terms as state party chairman.

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Two other candidates kept open the option to collect signatures when they filed with the state, Scott Allen Hatfield and Scott Reber. However, at the convention, Reber said he would not exercise the option to gather signatures.

What the race to replace Rep. Chris Stewart means for the nation — and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

Edwards, who never received more than 5% of the delegates’ votes and was eliminated in the third round, said the race is far from over. She is tapping into the signature gathering apparatus she developed during her last campaign.

“We’re in good shape. We have an army of volunteers around the state who are helping us because they share a same vision for a prosperous future for this state and they understand how important it is that we have someone step in to replace Chris Stewart that is ready to lead and ready to work and I’m that candidate,” she said.

If there are candidates who meet the signature-gathering requirement, a special primary election will be held Sept. 5, and the special general election will be held Nov. 21.

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