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Do Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, GOP challenger Erin Rider want Trump’s endorsement?

Candidates in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District squared off in party-sanctioned debate Tuesday

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GOP candidate Erin Rider and incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, take part in a debate.

Erin Rider, GOP primary candidate in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, and incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, take part in a debate at KNRS radio in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart says Donald Trump has told him he would endorse his reelection bid in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District but that he hasn’t asked the former president to back him.

“I don’t think it matters much, honestly. In some races, it does. But I think I can win this race on my own,” he said.

Erin Rider, Stewart’s GOP opponent, acknowledges that she didn’t vote for Trump in 2020 because although she liked a lot of his policies, she didn’t care for his leadership

“If he wants to endorse me, I’m probably not going to say no,” she said, adding she wants to go to Washington to “drain the swamp” as Trump did in 2016 to bring “desperately” needed change to the 2nd District.

Where the two candidates stand on Trump was about the only point of disagreement in an hour-long debate Tuesday sponsored by the Utah Republican Party on KRNS radio. Stewart and Rider were largely on the same page regarding gun issues, inflation and illegal immigration. Most of their criticism was leveled at the Biden administration rather than each other.

Stewart has not faced a primary election since winning the seat 10 years ago. Rider, a Salt Lake lawyer, collected voter signatures to secure a spot on the ballot for the June 28 primary.

A Trump endorsement has proved to be a liability and an asset in primary elections in other states. In Utah, the former president has publicly endorsed only Sen. Mike Lee.

Deadly mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas the past couple of weeks reignited the debate about gun rights.

Describing herself as a responsible gun owner, Rider said she doesn’t want to make hasty policies but everything should be on the table. She called for a holistic approach that includes discussions about school security, mental health, and family and community support.

“Right now we should be able to have a conversation without it threatening the 2nd Amendment,” she said.

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Erin Rider, GOP primary candidate in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, debates incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, at KNRS radio in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Stewart said gun control would not stop mass shootings. “We can’t stop all mass shootings, but we could stop all mass shootings in schools,” he said. He said he supports a single point of entry for schools along with an armed guard.

President Joe Biden has urged Congress to pass broader gun measures, such as a new ban on assault weapons or universal background checks on gun purchases. On Monday, he seemed to some to call for banning handguns when he said a 9mm bullet “blows the lung out of the body” while discussing options on gun legislation.

“Tell me why,” Stewart said. “You can tell this man has never shot a gun in his life, it appears. ... Is he going to confiscate literally more than 100 million guns from Americans who carry those weapons for self-protection?”

Rider agreed that she doesn’t think it makes sense to ban 9mm guns. “I don’t know how that would have affected this particular circumstance. But does that mean there is no circumstance at all, whatsoever that we can’t even talk about?”

On inflation, Rider and Stewart both blamed the Biden administration spending for high consumer prices.

A lot of pandemic relief was probably necessary but a lot of it wasn’t, Rider said. “We’re giving COVID stimulus money to people who are using it to buy boats. That’s not healthy,” she said.

Now with predictions of a recession coming, “we need a biblical Joseph in Egypt to say we have our seven years of famine coming. What are we doing? Are we filling the storehouses or are we continuing to spend hoping we can outspend a looming recession?” she said.

Though Republicans talk about it a lot, they have been “terrible” at being fiscally responsible.

Stewart said the economy is a “stunning” example of Biden being dishonest with Americans and not taking responsibility for his actions. The administration, he said, repeatedly called inflation transitory when it clearly wasn’t.

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Incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, debates GOP primary challenger Erin Rider at KNRS radio in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“Little old Chris Stewart from Utah knew a year ago it wasn’t,” he said, blaming the Democrats for spending $10 trillion in 26 months. “We simply have too many dollars chasing too few goods.”

Stewart took issue with Rider saying Republicans also are responsible for high spending. Republicans, he said, had spending under control and reduced the deficit early in his time in office, though not for the past six years.

Regarding immigration, Stewart and Rider agree that Title 42, the controversial public health policy that allows Customs and Border Protection officers to turn away migrants seeking asylum, should remain in place.

The U.S. border with Mexico is an “absolute mess” but it creates a window for meaningful legislation, Rider said.

“If that means we need to build a wall, let’s build a wall,” she said. Rider also favors providing “Dreamers” a path to citizenship or legal permanent residence.

Stewart said if Republicans take back Congress, it could appropriate funds to build the wall. He said he favors “Dreamers” becoming legal permanent residents but not citizens.

Debates between Republican candidates ahead of the primary election have become an issue in and of themselves.

Rider and Stewart agreed on the Utah GOP-sponsored debate after Stewart declined to participate in a debate scheduled Thursday by the bipartisan Utah Debate Commission at the urging of party leaders. Instead of taking the stage alone in that debate, Rider this week decided not to participate as well.

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Erin Rider, GOP primary candidate in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, and incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, take part in a debate at KNRS radio in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News