Congressional challenger Colby Jenkins repeatedly attacked Utah 2nd District Rep. Celeste Maloy for key votes during her first term on Monday at their first and only Republican primary debate.

Jenkins accused Maloy of failing to lead by compromising with Democrats on 2024 budget bills and government surveillance reauthorization. Maloy defended her votes, saying that knowing how to take a hard yes vote, instead of a perpetual no vote, in divided government is the essence of good leadership and called Jenkins’ talking points “naive.”

“It’s really easy when you’re a first time candidate ... to make promises and have the idea that if you were there you would have done something better,” Maloy told the Deseret News following the event. “Angry talking points and hyperbole and hardline stances aren’t really a formula for winning but they do sound really nice on the campaign flyer.”

Jenkins defeated Maloy at the state GOP convention 57%-43% just days after receiving the surprise endorsement of Sen. Mike Lee. Both convention-only candidates will appear on the June 25 primary ballot after exceeding 40% of delegate support.

Lee’s unprecedented endorsement in favor of Jenkins hung over the debate as the Army special forces veteran made his case for being the most likely to be a loyal ally to former President Donald Trump during a second administration while Maloy touted endorsements from top Trump cabinet officials as well as her long history of working on 2nd District issues in local and federal government.

“President Trump, when he takes office, he wants people who will not undermine him,” Jenkins said. “The American people are demanding and craving leadership. They’re tired of Republicans who put America last. That’s what we’re here for, to be hired to defend and fight for our country.”

Utah’s 2nd Congressional district debate between Colby Jenkins and Congresswoman Celeste Maloy at the KUED studios at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 10, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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Maloy spent her career working in land management for the Department of Agriculture and Washington County before becoming former 2nd District Rep. Chris Stewart’s chief legal counsel. She replaced her boss in last year’s special election after winning the state Republican Party nomination and general election contests, entering office at the end of November.

During her brief seven month tenure, Maloy has introduced legislation to transfer some federal lands to Utah, introduced another bill to extend compensation for victims of nuclear fallout and voted against more military aid to Ukraine. But Maloy has failed to hold her ground against establishment pressures on threats like spending and bureaucracy, according Jenkins, who previously supported Maloy as a state delegate in the special nominating convention in June.

Maloy’s vote in favor of the $1.2 trillion 2024 government funding package and her decision to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, after the failure of an amendment requiring warrants to collect information from Americans, both served as reasons for Lee’s endorsement and fodder for Jenkins’ attacks during the debate.

During the 2024 budget debate there were three options, Maloy said, another continuing resolution, shutting down government, or passing the negotiated spending bill.

“I chose the most fiscally responsible option, which is a spending bill. And it is by the way an overall cut in spending, and has really important conservative policy riders in it,” she said.

Jenkins, a former Green Beret liaison to Congress, said a supermajority of Utahns want to “hire” representatives that wield their slim majority in Congress to advance Republican priorities at all costs and with minimal concessions to the other side.

Jenkins said he would align himself with the uncompromising House Freedom Caucus if elected. Jenkins has been endorsed by the House Freedom Fund, a PAC devoted to supporting House Freedom Caucus members. Jenkins would be Utah’s first representative to join the group known for halting budget proceedings and ousting former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“We cannot lead from a position of weakness and continual compromise, stepping away from Republican values that allow our principles to no longer have a seat at the table,” Jenkins said. “That’s called surrender. That’s not called compromise. We must lead.”

Congresswoman Celeste Maloy takes her opportunity to talk after Utah’s 2nd Congressional district debate between and herself and Colby Jenkins at the KUED studios at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 10, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Maloy differentiated between compromising on degree and on principle, saying she shared the small-government goals of Jenkins but believes success lies in the hard work of relationship-building and policymaking, not the tactics of shutdowns and “hardline” promises which she said lead to conservatives not being “invited to the table” in the first place.

“I’ve taken some tough votes in the short time I’ve been in Congress,” Maloy said. “Leadership isn’t throwing out ultimatums or talking points — leadership’s getting in, doing the work and being accountable for the work you’re doing.”

Both candidates said they would vote for Trump in the presidential election. But Jenkins, who has also been endorsed by Trump allies like Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tried to question Maloy’s loyalty to Trump and said one of his jobs as a GOP lawmaker would be to “remove legislative obstacles” to an effective Trump administration.

Maloy said endorsements from two top Trump officials, former national security adviser Robert O’Brien and former Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, “put that question to rest,” referring to her ability to work in support of Trump’s agenda, including closing the southern border and renewing his 2017 tax cuts.

The winner of the GOP primary on June 25 will face off against Carbon County lawyer Nathaniel Woodward in the Nov. 5 general election.