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Gov. Spencer Cox reveals preference for 1 candidate in upcoming 2nd District election

Cox declined to endorse Celeste Maloy, Becky Edwards or Bruce Hough in the special congressional election, but said he’d like representation from southern Utah

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Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly News Conference in Salt Lake City on Aug. 17, 2023.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox declined to endorse a Republican candidate in the special election to replace Congressman Chris Stewart during Thursday’s monthly press conference but said he thinks Utah would benefit from a candidate who represents the state’s southern half, and said Celeste Maloy is ready to “hit the ground running” from Day 1. 

Cox spoke highly of all three Republican candidates who have qualified for the 2nd Congressional District primary election on Sept. 5 — GOP convention winner Maloy, businessman-turned-party-insider Bruce Hough and former state lawmaker Becky Edwards — repeating that voters were lucky to have “three candidates that are just that capable.”

While reiterating that he was not making an official endorsement, Cox said he “certainly” has a preference and thinks it’s important “to have some representation off the Wasatch Front once in a while.”

Cox made reference to his background as someone from south of the “Payson-Dixon line” and pointed out that Utah’s congressional delegation does not currently have a member who comes from that region of the state. 

Only one of the three Republican candidates vying for 2nd District primary votes hails from the state’s south: Maloy. 

Maloy was born and raised in Hiko, Nevada, a 212-hour drive west of Cedar City, where she later graduated from Southern Utah University. Maloy then spent the next 15 years working in Beaver as a soil conservationist and St. George as a county attorney. Following four years as Stewart’s chief legal counsel, Maloy moved back to Cedar City to run for Congress. 

After studying social work and marriage and family therapy at Brigham Young University, Edwards settled down with her family in Bountiful, where they have lived for the last 30 years. Hough moved around the Salt Lake Valley while starting multiple businesses, in advertising, satellite communications and nutritional supplements, before landing in Park City where he has stayed, also for the last 30 years. 

Maloy has made her connection to the rural parts of the 2nd Congressional District a central theme of her campaign, recounting her history in the region during early debates, the GOP convention and in Tuesday’s televised debate between her and Hough. 

During Thursday’s press conference, Cox acknowledged that it sounded like he was endorsing someone with his comments but said he was not. 

“It’s just more of a rural geography thing that I think is important,” he said. 

All three candidates are qualified and capable of doing the job on Capitol Hill, according to Cox, who says he is good friends with each of them. 

“Bruce is a great guy that has represented the state very well as the national committeeman for a long time,” Cox said of Hough, who served two terms as the chair of the Utah Republican Party from 1991 to 1995 and another two terms as one of Utah’s three Republican National Committee members from 2008 to 2016 and then again from 2020 to 2023. 

Cox also mentioned the “great” relationship he had formed with Edwards while working with her at the state Capitol where she represented Utah House District 20, which included North Salt Lake and the western parts of Woods Cross and Bountiful, over the course of five terms. 

But Cox said Maloy’s background makes her uniquely qualified for the job of entering Congress midway through a legislative session. 

“Celeste, having worked with Congressman Stewart, she can hit the ground running faster than anyone else. She’s been involved in all the issues, she’s literally worked in that office, and is unbelievably talented,” Cox said. 

Primary election ballots began to be mailed to 2nd District active registered voters Tuesday.

The winner of the Sept. 5 Republican primary election will proceed to the Nov. 21 general election, where they will face off against Utah Democratic Party nominee state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, Utah United Party nominee January Walker, Utah Libertarian Party nominee Bradley Garth Green and Constitution Party nominee Cassie Easley.