One of the most controversial races in the 2022 election cycle is the contest for the Republican nomination in Orem’s Senate District 23, where State Sen. Keith Grover is attempting to fight off a challenge from fellow Republican Brandon Beckham.
Three days before Beckham filed to run, Utah County prosecutors charged him with a felony count of forcible sexual abuse. According to court documents, he is accused of assaulting a woman last summer.
As Beckham fights to avoid elimination from the race at Saturday’s Utah County Convention, his supporters argue the felony charge is a “political hit job” and part of a character assassination campaign. At the same time, Beckham’s campaign has frustrated two Utah Republicans in Congress by featuring their photos on a campaign mailer.
An email making the rounds among delegates argues Beckham is being “Kavanaughed,” a reference to the sexual assault accusations leveled against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings in 2018.
“We all saw the political hit that was done to Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. I believe we are seeing the same thing now,” Delegate Andrew Knaupp wrote in an email sent to delegates this week.
To back up his argument, Knaupp said Utah County Attorney David Leavitt filed the charges on March 8, the same day as the Utah Republican Caucus meetings. He also argues Beckham was not informed of the charges until they surfaced in the media.
“Instead of focusing on the issues Brandon is bringing to the table, this is now about character assassination,” Knaupp wrote.
The Utah County Attorney’s office vehemently denied that politics played any role in the charges or their timing. Public Information Officer Sherrie Hall Everett said prosecutors were unaware that Beckham was a candidate until asked by media members.
“Our office does not notify any defendant of pending court charges until the Court issues a court date or summons or warrant. No one in our office had any idea the accused was running for office, and it took us several hours to confirm that. Mr. Leavitt was informed afterward about the media interest, but knew no details of the case,” Everett said.
Knaupp did not respond to a request for comment for this story. A spokesperson for Beckham’s campaign said they were unaware of the email and declined comment.
Beckham is scheduled to make his first appearance in a Provo courtroom on April 20.
The charges against Beckham appear to have slowed down his campaign’s fundraising. Before March 8, he had reeled in just over $13,000 from more than 30 donors, including former state Reps. Kim Coleman and Steve Christiansen. After the charges were made public, he raised another $7,000 from three donors.
Another controversy surrounding Beckham’s campaign erupted in the days leading up to the convention over the unauthorized use of photos in a campaign mailer. The mailer features a picture of Beckham posing with Sen. Mike Lee and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem at a recent fundraiser. Another picture shows Beckham giving the “thumbs up” sign alongside Rep. Burgess Owens.
While the mailer does not mention either Lee or Owens, the implied endorsement drew a harsh backlash.
“In no way does Mike Lee endorse Brandon Beckham, nor did we authorize him to use this photo,” Matt Lusty, Lee’s campaign manager, said.
Incumbent Grover’s campaign recently sent out a mailer touting Owens’ official endorsement in the race.
Dana Robinson, a spokesperson for Beckham’s campaign, said the mailer was not intended to imply Lee or Owens had offered their endorsement.
“It’s very common for them (members of Congress) to take a picture with someone who was helping with their campaigns. People are just assuming because they see him in the picture, they feel they must be endorsing him. Brandon has never given any indication they were endorsing him,” Robinson said.
Grover had a different view of Beckham’s mailer, accusing his opponent of political chicanery.
“It’s unfortunate my opponent is attempting to mislead voters by implying endorsements from elected officials, including one who has endorsed my campaign,” Grover said.
Beckham’s campaign needs to secure at least 40 percent support from delegates to advance to the June primary election. Failure to meet that threshold will end his campaign. Grover is safe from elimination, grabbing a spot in the June primary through Utah’s signature-gathering path.
This is Beckham’s first run for political office, but he’s no stranger to Utah Republicans. He was the director of “Keep My Voice,” the group which unsuccessfully tried to repeal the Utah law allowing candidates to gather signatures. He authored a resolution to censure Sen. Mitt Romney following his vote to remove former President Donald Trump from office in his first impeachment trial. The resolution also demanded Romney support Trump’s agenda or resign his seat.
Most recently, Beckham has been involved in the controversy surrounding how race and history are taught in public schools. He produced a scaremongering movie warning of the alleged dangers of critical race theory and Marxism in public education, reported the Standard-Examiner. The movie was funded by Sen. John Johnson, who has distanced himself from Beckham after the allegations against him became public.
Correction: May 18, 1:33 p.m. • This story has been updated to reflect when the charges against Brandon Beckham were filed.