Businessman Blake Moore claimed a small lead Tuesday in a tight four-way Republican primary race in Utah’s 1st Congressional District, where nine-term Rep. Rob Bishop is retiring.
Early returns showed Moore with 30.3%, followed by Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson with 29.6%. Behind those two were dairyman and former Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson with 23.4% and Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt with 16.7%.
Less than a point behind Moore, Stevenson said he had expected it to be a close race.
”We know there are still a lot of votes out there that need to come in,” Stevenson said. “It’ll be an interesting few days.”
Officials say it may be days or weeks before a clear winner emerges because of delays in counting votes caused by COVID-19 restrictions. An updated vote count will be released Wednesday afternoon. A final vote canvass is in three weeks.
The Republican nominee is likely to become the next representative in this heavily conservative, mostly northern Utah congressional district.
Democrats also had a primary in the 1st District on Tuesday. Darren Parry, the moderate former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, had 52.5% of that vote while progressive Jamie Cheek, a vocational rehabilitation manager for the state, had 47.5%, in early returns.
Although five points behind Parry, Cheek said in a statement that she would also be watching the results as ballots continued to be counted. She said Democrats in the district are “ready to make a difference.”
“We have seen record-setting voter turnout, despite the fact that many people switched their voter registrations to vote in the Republican primary,” Cheek said, adding “We will be the campaign to secure the nomination and flip this district in November.”
The GOP race has often been wild, including years of controversy that trailed Gibson in his elected offices, Moore living outside the district, Witt giving high-profile support to a proposed concert to attack and openly defy state COVID-19 restrictions, and Stevenson giving extra large amounts of money to his own campaign.
That comes even though all the Republicans are conservatives, and all expressed strong support for President Donald Trump.
Witt often says, “I am pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump, but most importantly, I’m pro-you.” But her campaign has been defined mostly by controversy surrounding her support for a proposed concert at a city park featuring country star Collin Raye to protest and defy COVID-19 directives.
Other candidates denounced that as political grandstanding that would threaten residents’ health. Her City Council blocked the concert by threatening to turn on sprinklers and cut power — and passed a letter of censure against her after it had planned to call for her resignation.
Moore, who says he is a former foreign service officer and is a current executive in the Cicero business consulting group, was criticized by the other candidates for not living in the district. He lives on the east bench of Salt Lake City, about 15 miles from the nearest border with the 1st District at the Summit County line. He has said he will become a district resident if he is elected.
Other candidates say it’s tough to know the needs and desires of constituents if Moore doesn’t live with them. Moore said he grew up in Ogden, in the district. “When you’re from Ogden, that never leaves you.”
Stevenson has dug into his wallet to provide $262,000 to his campaign, or 72% of its total. Others also have provided a lot of their own funding. Moore loaned his campaign $159,000, or 45% of its total; Gibson loaned himself $76,000 or 32% of his total, and Witt loaned her campaign $75,000 or 30% of her total.
Gibson was recently hit with allegations that during his nine months as the Utah agriculture commissioner, staff shake-ups took a toll on morale, travel spending went up and financial audits flagged a spike in procedural errors. State Auditor John Dougall recently launched an ongoing investigation into various irregularities in response to whistleblower complaints.
After years of claiming on resumes and biographies that he has a “dairy herdsman degree” from Utah State University, The Salt Lake Tribune revealed in April that USU says Gibson has no degree — but he has a certificate from a short-term program over three semesters.
Controversy also stalled confirmation of Gibson as deputy director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources in 2018 as an Ogden police probe looked into allegations that he, as a Weber County commissioner, misappropriated county resources and equipment on his family farm and directed county employees to perform campaign fundraising for him during business hours. After review of the police findings by the Davis County Attorney’s Office, no charges were filed.
In the Democratic primary, Parry said he is running to bring civility back to the government. “Some of the greatest crimes in the history of our nation were not caused by hatred, but by indifference. It’s time for good people to stand up,” he said. “I am a bridge builder.”
Cheek said she listens and works on issues of concern to all such as health care, climate change and education. “We do have the issues on our side.”