The deadline has now passed for candidates jockeying to qualify to run in the special election to replace 2nd Congressional District Rep. Chris Stewart.  

Following Stewart’s announcement that he would resign on Sept. 15, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox designated July 5 at 5 p.m. as the cutoff for political parties to submit the names of candidates chosen at party conventions and for signature-gathering candidates to submit their lists.

Three Republican candidates — Celeste Maloy, Becky Edwards and Bruce Hough — have emerged, with the latter two still waiting for signature verifications to ensure their spot on the ballot. 

While Maloy is thought to carry an advantage going into the Republican special primary as the state GOP’s delegate convention winner, the last few years have seen several examples of the delegates’ nominee losing out to signature gatherers like former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, 3rd Congressional District Rep. John Curtis and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney — a pattern Edwards and Hough are hoping to replicate. 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy can’t try to sway primary

Because of a deal Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with members of the House Freedom Caucus during his bid for the speakership in January, he and his aligned Congressional Leadership Fund PAC can’t get involved directly in the primary election, but he is likely watching the race closely.

Stewart is a close ally of McCarthy’s in the House, and given the narrow Republican majority, McCarthy likely hopes his replacement will be similarly situated.

As former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz told Deseret News last month, “Leadership will be keenly honed in on this race. They want somebody they can work with, and when the votes are close, go get their vote. With such a slim majority this is even more pivotal to how votes will ultimately go.” 

But none of the candidates left in the race appear likely to raise concerns among House leadership that Utah will send them someone they can’t work with.

Other parties choose candidates

Several other Utah political parties also selected a nominee during their party conventions. The Utah Democratic Party put forward state Sen. Kathleen Riebe. The United Utah Party selected past congressional candidate January Walker. The Utah Libertarian Party advanced Bradley Garth Green, the son of Cedar City Mayor Garth O. Green. And the Constitution Party of Utah nominated Iron County party chair Cassie Easley. 

However, given that the 2nd Congressional District is considered to be safe Republican territory — Stewart was reelected by a 25-point margin in 2022 — the race to choose Utah’s next member of Congress will likely be decided in the Republican primary. 

Edwards and Hough hope they’ve gathered enough signatures

This isn’t the first time Edwards has gathered signatures with hopes of upsetting the convention favorite. She challenged Sen. Mike Lee when he was up for reelection last year, gathering over 40,000 signatures to qualify for the primary where she lost after capturing less than 30% of the vote. 

Edwards has positioned herself as a political moderate and experienced problem-solver whose five terms in the Utah legislature — where she focused on issues of air quality and housing affordability — show her commitment to bipartisanship and addressing problems of real concern to voters.

“In my own experience, I’ve seen how getting to know and in fact love those we disagree with is where some of my greatest and most compassionate work has occurred,” Edwards said during her convention speech. “We need a leader willing to have tough conversations, someone who can turn discussions into decisive action. I am that leader.”

In a statement to the Deseret News, Edwards said her “unwavering commitment to integrity and effective representation sets me apart as the ideal candidate to carry forward the ‘Utah Way’ and shape a stronger future for our nation.”

As of Wednesday morning, Edwards had submitted over 11,000 signatures, with at least one more batch expected before the 5 o’clock buzzer, according to a campaign staffer. This number comes in at well over the 7,000 signature threshold required by state law to make the primary ballot, reflecting a desire to avoid falling short because of discarded signatures. 

Edwards was able to tap into a system of volunteer support she had developed during her Senate campaign, relying on over 300 volunteers to collect the majority of their signatures, according to her campaign. 

Having submitted her first signatures last Thursday, Edwards will get first dibs on any signatures repeated by the Hough campaign. All signatures must be from registered Republican voters in 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of south western Utah and parts of Salt Lake and Davis counties. 

The lieutenant governor’s office will publish an ongoing tally of certified signatures each weekday morning at 9 a.m. Edwards currently has 2,069 certified signatures.

The Hough campaign submitted what they estimated was 10,500 signatures Wednesday afternoon. The signatures were gathered using a paid signature gathering service. 

So far, Hough’s campaign has focused on his years in GOP leadership and traditional conservative values. In Hough’s convention speech, the former Republican National committeeman and two-time state GOP chair, listed the principles he would adhere to “no matter what,” including preserving the family as the “basic structure, and building block of society,” defending the Constitution and freeing the country from debt.

“I am the only qualified conservative candidate on the ballot,” Hough later said in a statement to the Deseret News.

Maloy, the convention’s surprise winner, has insisted on her qualifications for office despite a lack of experience as an elected official. “I don’t have a voting record, but I do have a track record, a track record of serving you,” she said to the delegates, referencing her work as Stewart’s chief legal counsel over the last four years.

The message broadcasted by Maloy at the convention and during the two GOP debates was a desire to listen to her constituents and employ her experience gained working with Stewart on 2nd district problems and as an attorney in Washington County dealing with public lands and water rights.

In the end, delegates found her connection to southern Utah and her endorsements from Stewart, former congressman Rob Bishop, and fellow candidate Jordan Hess persuasive. After placing second in the first round at the convention, with 24.1% of the vote, she won the delegates’ nomination in the fifth round with 52.1% of the vote to former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes’ 47.9%.

Meanwhile, Edwards was eliminated during the third round of voting after never receiving more than 5% of the vote, and Hough was eliminated in the second round with less than 2% of the vote.

But these results could change going forward to the primary.

“It’s just a different set of messages that matter to delegates than it does to your average Republican primary voter,” said Kelly Patterson, a senior scholar at the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

Maloy’s voter registration controversy and next steps

Something Edwards and Hough may try to capitalize on in the run-up to the primary is controversy surrounding Maloy’s voter registration.

Following the June 24 convention, it was publicized that Maloy was not registered as an active voter in the state at the time she filed to run. She was on a list of names to be removed from Utah voter rolls because she had not voted in two consecutive elections after moving to Virginia to work for Stewart.

Though Maloy had previously registered as a Republican and had voted that way in every election before moving, her “removable” voter status caused some to speculate on whether she should be disqualified from the race.

Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson attempted to resolve the issue, saying in an official statement, “It is the opinion of this Office that Celeste Maloy satisfied all lawful requirements and constitutional qualifications, and that she properly filed for office according to the laws of the State of Utah.”

But in a statement released by Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson on behalf of his colleagues in the legislature, the implication was made that Henderson should have done more to ensure that Maloy met state and party requirements. The statement also said that the window for challenging Maloy’s declaration of candidacy has closed and her candidacy will move forward, barring a legal challenge.

Utah GOP chair Rob Axson submitted Maloy’s name to the lieutenant governor’s office just before the 5 p.m. deadline Wednesday, along with a statement that said Maloy “met the Party requirement to submit her filing for candidacy with the Party on June 16 which was more than 7 days prior to the scheduled convention/caucus.”

A press release sent later in the day by the state GOP said, “Our bylaws are clear: Ms. Maloy is the convention nominee. She was chosen by the delegates at our convention.”

It said any dispute between the legislature and Henderson’s office would have to be worked out between them or in court.

“Any further determinations of process or eligibility of Celeste’s candidacy are not within the Party’s purview. At this time, the role of the Party is to rally behind our convention nominee, Celeste Maloy, and support her pathway to victory,” the statement said.

Looking forward to the next stage of the race, Maloy told the Deseret News she is confident she can replicate her success among Utah delegates with a broader primary audience.

“I am honored and humbled to receive the support of Utah’s Republican state delegates. And I am eager to fight for the trust and support of Utah’s Republican voters,” she said. “In the days ahead, I’ll be listening to the concerns of our voters and sharing my vision for a stronger, freer Utah. I look forward to meeting and talking with folks in every corner of the district.”

The party will host a debate between Maloy and whichever of her contenders receive enough certified signatures, if there is demand for one, Axson said.