Rep. Celeste Maloy is on track to secure the Republican Party nomination over Colby Jenkins in the 2nd Congressional District primary race with a lead of 214 votes as of Tuesday’s count. Jenkins has confirmed he will request a recount following the state certification on July 22.

Maloy was endorsed by former President Donald Trump after ballots were already in mailboxes in June, while Jenkins was endorsed by Utah Sen. Mike Lee in April. The prolonged GOP showdown between the recently elected incumbent and her insurgent challenger has shined a spotlight on their opposing endorsements even as it has put Maloy’s short, seven-month voting record to the test.

Lee broke with longtime personal precedent — and with the political norm of opposing fellow GOP lawmakers — when he endorsed Jenkins, a political newcomer, against Maloy, his newest Utah congressional colleague, just two days before the state GOP nominating convention in April, which Jenkins won 57%-43%. Jenkins’ upset victory forced a primary rematch and nearly ousted Maloy, who was relying on a win at the convention to get on the primary ballot.

The endorsement marked Lee’s first time using his influence among Utah conservatives in a congressional primary at home. While some Lee supporters say his endorsement has been a net negative for his influence in the state, advisers to Lee and Jenkins say the gamble helped Lee’s political brand.

Sen. Mike Lee wants to remake the Republican Party. Will it backfire?

According to Lee’s chief strategist, Dan Hauser, the senior senator’s aggressive electoral strategy has been vindicated by nearly upsetting a well-supported incumbent who had Trump’s endorsement with “an unknown but fantastic candidate.”

“He went up against the former — and soon to be next — president of our nation, and the entire Utah establishment — including the governor, the federal delegation, lobbyists, donors, much of the media, and most consultants,” Hauser told the Deseret News. “Sen. Lee’s endorsement alone has made that race so close that a recount is highly likely. If that doesn’t show influence, I don’t know what does.”

Jenkins’ campaign consultant, Greg Powers, had a similar view of Lee’s endorsement. By showing he can stand up to the GOP elite, as he has long been known to do, Lee’s endorsement has paid off — even if his candidate doesn’t receive the nomination, according to Powers.

“Either way, this is a clear win for the Lee brand. To go against everybody else in the delegation, and the former president, and to take somebody out of nowhere — we started at 15% and put it into this,” Powers said. “Mike Lee’s already won with this race.”

The effect of Lee’s 2nd District endorsement

Lee’s endorsement, which sent shockwaves through Utah political circles — surprising even some of his closest former staffers — elevated Jenkins’ candidacy and helped him with national endorsements, PAC spending and increased name recognition.

Following the convention, Lee went all in for Jenkins. He filled his social media with supportive posts, filmed video ads, sent out fundraising emails and stumped at campaign events across the district, with a focus in conservative Washington County, where Jenkins holds a primary lead of 59%-40%.

But by that point, most of the momentum of Lee’s endorsement had already run out, according to one Utah Republican operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“If the senator’s impact was going to be anywhere it was going to be at the convention,” the source said. “And the fact that that didn’t play out the way he wanted was kind of the losing moment.”

While some GOP insiders, including Glenn Beck, told the Deseret News the opposing endorsements between Lee and Trump did not reflect a broader divide, the GOP operative said it may have hurt perceptions of Lee as a close confidant of Trump.

“The worst part of all of this for Sen. Lee was that it put him and former President Trump on the opposite sides of the campaign,” the source said.

Glenn Beck explains why Sen. Lee and Trump fall on opposite sides of Utah, Virginia endorsements

Trump weighed in on his second Utah primary race of the election cycle when he endorsed Maloy a week before the primary, adding his stamp of approval to a list of high profile endorsements for Maloy, including from two former top Trump officials, as well as House Speaker Mike Johnson and Utah’s entire U.S. House delegation.

In addition to potentially hurting Lee’s chances at snagging a position in a future Trump administration, the source said Lee’s endorsement could create a lasting cleavage within Utah’s congressional delegation. “And that is a loss for him and is a bigger loss for the state.”

Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner said she believes Lee’s endorsement made the 2nd District race more competitive. “But obviously not enough to put Colby Jenkins over the top.”

As someone who supports Lee, and who previously received his endorsement after serving as a spokesperson for his campaign, Powers Gardner is worried the senator’s increased engagement in Utah elections may have done the opposite of what he hoped for and “diluted his influence significantly.”

Lee endorsed in a dozen state and municipal primary races this year. In several, Powers Gardner said Lee “was just 100% completely off base.”

“I think that he probably endorsed them because some staffer said ‘Hey, you should endorse this person,’ without even knowing them, or their opponent, well enough to realize that who he was endorsing probably wouldn’t align with his values,” Powers Gardner said. “And so I think that actually affected the potency of his endorsement.”

Overall, Lee’s record for state legislative and school board seat endorsements was 10 out of 12. Some of his endorsements included state Reps. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, and Trevor Lee, R-Layton.

“Senator Lee’s influence in Utah elections is already clear,” Hauser said. “Looking at this election cycle from a broader perspective, Senator Lee’s endorsement record is remarkable.”

Maloy responds to Lee’s endorsement

Lee’s endorsement in the 2nd District race appeared very deliberate. The move followed Maloy’s approval of 2024 budget and government surveillance reauthorization bills that Lee opposed. Lee also conducted an in-depth interview with Jenkins on how he would vote if elected before making the endorsement.

Lee has insisted that putting his thumb on the scale for Jenkins was not a personal snub toward Maloy. The decision was made because a certain kind of candidate is needed to break the nation’s status quo on spending, Lee previously said to the Deseret News.

Lee previously pushed back against the “characterization” of his endorsement as being “against” Maloy. He said he liked her, and said he was concerned about harming relationships in Utah, but he felt “compelled” to weigh in.

During a video press conference on Tuesday, Maloy jokingly thanked Lee for weighing in on the race because it strengthened her own candidacy.

“Tough races make for tough members,” Maloy said. “So I guess first of all, I want to say thanks for making me the toughest member I could be in such a short amount of time.”

Maloy has run two convention campaigns, two primary campaigns and one general election campaign in the last year. She was elected to Congress in a special election in November 2023.

What really happened between Rep. Celeste Maloy and Sen. Mike Lee?

In the nearly eight months she has been in office, Maloy has introduced legislation — with Lee — to transfer some federal lands to Utah, passed a bill to improve government programs for women-owned small businesses, has pushed the Justice Department to crack down on teen vaping and has voted against further military aid to Ukraine.

“There’s more of that to come,” Maloy said on Tuesday. “I am a conservative Republican. President Trump endorsed me, he knows that I’m with him. We’re gonna get a lot of good conservative wins.”

Maloy is currently working on bills to protect state water rights and streamline federal permitting processes and her Washington, D.C., staff continues to work with Lee’s on legislation they are co-sponsoring, she said on Tuesday.

Maloy told reporters she doesn’t know why Lee endorsed her opponent, “But it looks like he and I are going to continue being colleagues and I’m going to be the best colleague I can possibly be because that’s what Utah needs from me.”

Lee and Trump endorse in other Utah races


With eight days to go before the June 25 primary election, Lee endorsed state Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, for Utah’s open 3rd Congressional District seat. The endorsement, which came much later than Lee’s others, led to the senator filming a short video for the candidate but do little else to support him.

Kennedy went on to win the crowded five-man race by more than 17 percentage points, with more than 39% of the vote. Kennedy had previously won at the state GOP convention with 61.5% of delegate support.

Trump put his kingmaker status to the test with an unexpected endorsement in Utah’s race to replace Mitt Romney. The former president endorsed Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs for U.S. Senate on the morning of the April 27 nominating convention.

Staggs won among convention delegates in a landslide, 70%-30%, with Rep. John Curtis in second place. Curtis went on to beat Staggs 49%-33% in the four-way primary contest.

Trump’s kingmaker status is being put to the test with his Utah Senate endorsement
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.