Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of three Utah candidates, including two at the 11th hour, in Tuesday’s Republican primary election had no impact on the outcome other than padding his stats.
The endorsements of Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens came a day before Tuesday’s GOP primary election and weeks after Utahns had already started sending in ballots. They were among a batch of incumbents Trump backed the eve of Republican primaries in Utah, Oklahoma and Illinois.
Before the election, Stewart said he didn’t need Trump’s endorsement to win, though he welcomed it when it came. He and Owens won easily Tuesday.
Announcing endorsements on the day before the primary and long after voting has been underway is not likely to result in a large effect, especially for incumbents who already have considerable name recognition, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
A Newsweek headline this week read, “Trump Backs Surefire Primary Candidates Likely to Boost Success Rate.”
“Trump isn’t exactly risking much with his latest round of endorsements,” Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London’s Center on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek.
“By putting his weight behind candidates who are already shoe-ins, Trump can inflate his win-loss record, keep his name in the news, and earn the gratitude of Republicans who might soon find themselves on Capitol Hill.”
Trump endorsed Utah Sen. Mike Lee in April. Though two viable, hard-working challengers, Becky Edwards and Ally Isom, forced him into a primary, Lee won with 62% of the vote. A Desert News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll before the election showed Lee with a large lead over Edwards and Isom.
In his endorsement of Lee, Trump attacked the two-term senator’s now general election opponent, independent Evan McMullin, referring to him as “McMuffin.” Trump also took a shot at centrist Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney at the same time.
Though an ardent Trump ally, Lee didn’t say anything about the endorsement heading into the primary.
Incidentally, Trump promoted Lee’s “amazing” new book about the Supreme Court titled “Saving Nine,” in a statement Wednesday that included a link to buy a copy on Amazon.
Of the roughly 200 candidates Trump has endorsed in the 2022 midterm elections, many are running unopposed or face little-known, poorly funded opponents, according to The New York Times.
That would be true of the challengers Stewart and Owens dispatched Tuesday.
Neither race was ever really in doubt, though first-time candidate Jake Hunsaker managed to win 38% of the vote in a fervent campaign against Owens in the 4th District. Stewart captured 73% of the vote against Erin Rider in the 2nd District.
Incumbents rarely lose general elections, let alone primaries.
“The fact that Lee, Stewart and Owens all won handily demonstrates both the power of incumbency as well as Donald Trump’s continued role at the center of Republican politics,” Karpowitz said. “Even with all the shocking details emerging from the Jan. 6 committee, being allied with Donald Trump was not disqualifying in the eyes of many Republican voters.”
But Karpowitz expects the dynamics to be somewhat different in the general election, where a larger and more moderate group of voters will participate.
“While the general elections for the House seats aren’t likely to be terribly competitive, I expect attitudes about Donald Trump to be a major issue in the race between Mike Lee and Evan McMullin,” he said.
Candidates endorsed by Trump in contested races have won more times than they have lost.
According to Axios’ endorsement tracker, Trump-backed candidates have won 14 and lost five U.S. House races. In the U.S. Senate, his record is seven wins and no losses. The tracker does not include the Lee, Stewart and Owens primary races.
Axios notes that the data includes only those races in which its research determined at least two candidates have a reasonable chance of winning.
An Axios analysis of Trump’s 173 endorsements found his record — while still positive overall — is far weaker when candidates running unopposed or in noncompetitive races are filtered out.
Eleven of Trump’s candidates in competitive races have lost so far, while 30 have won, according to Axios.
Trump did not endorse Utah Republican Reps. John Curtis and Blake Moore, who are seen as more moderate House members. He also didn’t publicly back their pro-Trump opponents. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll showed Curtis well ahead of Chris Herrod in the 3rd Congressional District and Moore with a wide margin over Tina Cannon and Andrew Badger, who called himself an “America First” candidate in the model of Trump.
The New York Times featured the 1st District race in its election coverage Tuesday. The story noted Moore’s support of Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a member of the House’s Jan. 6 investigative committee. He voted against removing Cheney from House leadership after she voted to impeach Trump for his role in the U.S. Capitol attack.
Moore and Cheney were scheduled to host a joint fundraiser in Salt Lake City last October, but a flight delay prevented her from making it.