An earlier version of this article was published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

Hello, friends. It’s debate week. Take your vitamins.

3 things to know

  • Days away from the first debate, the Trump team is attacking both President Joe Biden and CNN, the host network. A spokesperson for former President Donald Trump called Dana Bash and Jake Tapper “biased” and CNN “hostile” during an appearance on CNN Monday. And Trump is re-upping his accusations that Biden uses performance-enhancing substances — and challenged the president to a pre-debate drug test. Read more here.
  • This year’s deficit is projected to hit $1.9 trillion, the Congressional Budget Office announced. The figure offers Republicans renewed opportunity to criticize spending under the Biden administration — even though Trump added $8 trillion to the national debt during his four-year term, much of it related to COVID-19 spending. Read more here.
  • Trump made waves last week by saying he would offer a green card to all international students who graduate with a college degree. It was a deviation from Trump’s previous rhetoric on immigration, causing a spokesperson to clarify that such a policy would be accompanied by “aggressive vetting.” Read more here.

The Big Idea

In Utah, Republicans take sides

Tuesday is primary election day in Colorado, Utah and New York. In Colorado, Democrats have poured half a million dollars behind a far-right election denier (a strategy that caused rifts, but worked, in 2022). In New York, Democratic “squad” member Rep. Jamaal Bowman is facing a tough primary challenge from a pro-Israel centrist. And in Utah, the Republican Party’s divisions are on full display.

In races from the governorship to the U.S. Senate, Utah Republicans will vote in races where candidates have different ideas of what the GOP should represent.

The Senate election has drawn the most national headlines, thanks to the biggest name: outgoing Sen. Mitt Romney. The winner of the Republican primary is likely to win in November to replace Romney in the Senate. The latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll shows Rep. John Curtis with a sizable lead, though a third of voters were undecided; he’s followed by Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs and ex-Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson.

Romney, notably, has decided to withhold an endorsement. Trump has weighed in, though, backing Staggs instead of Moxie Pest Control CEO Jason Walton, who was expecting Trump’s endorsement as late as the day before the GOP convention, my colleague Brigham Tomco reports.

Even as Curtis has pitched himself as a staunch conservative on immigration and the economy, Trump’s endorsement of Staggs seems to have sway with MAGA voters. Curtis is much more popular among self-described “party-first Republicans” in Utah than “Trump-first Republicans,” according to a Noble Predictive Insight poll: Staggs leads Curtis 55%-22% among that group, while Curtis is up 60%-18% among the “party-first” Republicans.

But in the 2nd Congressional District race, it’s less a MAGA-versus-establishment fight and more a case of MAGA-on-MAGA infighting. Sen. Mike Lee shook Utah Republicans by endorsing political newcomer Colby Jenkins, while Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson have since endorsed incumbent Rep. Celeste Maloy.

To some observers, like Glenn Beck, the conflicting endorsements don’t reflect division within the party, but different priorities: Lee wants more fighters in the House Freedom Caucus, and Trump wants to secure a Republican-majority Congress. “I just think that they have different objectives in front of them because one is a senator and the other is the nominee of his party for president,” Beck said.

That sentiment doesn’t extend to the gubernatorial race, where incumbent Gov. Spencer Cox — the current chair of the National Governors Association — faces a challenge from Utah Rep. Phil Lyman. Cox has criticized Trump, previously saying Republicans would make a “huge mistake” by nominating the former president, while criticizing Biden as well. Lyman has not received Trump’s backing but says he has “unapologetically” supported Trump since 2016.

The gubernatorial race is the among the most contentious of the state’s elections: ever since a largely civil debate two weeks ago, the race has been overshadowed by deepfake videos and accusations of fraud. Lyman has refused to say whether he will accept the results of the election.

All three races — for U.S. Senate, the 2nd District and the governorship — display ongoing debates over the identity of the Republican Party. On Tuesday, Utah Republicans decide where they fall.

What I’m reading

Trump isn’t expected to face a trial in any other criminal cases ahead of November’s election. A trial in the Florida classified documents case is nowhere in sight, thanks to efforts by Trump’s legal team to cast doubt on the prosecution. As Trump’s Documents Case Crawls Along, Questions About Judge Abound (C. Ryan Barber, The Wall Street Journal)

Biden needs Milwaukee, the bluest city in battleground Wisconsin, to win the 2024 election. The city’s mayor — the first African American to ever hold the position — is a staunch supporter. But other Black voters in Milwaukee are tepid. Black Voters in This City Could Determine 2024. And It’s Not Looking Good for Biden. (Brakkton Booker, Politico Magazine)

Obama is still staunchly in Biden’s corner, despite reports to the contrary. As Biden’s polling flounders and many Democrats express public concern about a second Trump term, Obama has taken a quiet role supporting the president. Obama’s anxiety about what could happen in November “is real,” a friend said, but that has made the former president more loyal to Biden, not less. What Obama Is Whispering to Biden (Gabriel Debenedetti, New York Magazine)

Tuesday trivia

Last Tuesday’s question: Who was the last independent presidential candidate to participate in a general election debate?

The answer is Ross Perot, who participated in all three of the 1992 debates. Kudos to reader Shabbos Kestenbaum for being the first to get this one right.

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Perot ended up winning nearly 19% of the vote nationally, the best performance by an independent candidate over the past century. Watch some of Perot’s best debate moments, courtesy of C-SPAN Radio, here.

This week’s question, in honor of the upcoming debate:

Who is the oldest U.S. presidential candidate ever to participate in a general election debate?

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.

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