Few differences between candidates during GOP’s 2nd Congressional District debate

Rep. Chris Stewart and challenger Erin Rider mostly agreed during their first, and likely only, pre-primary debate.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart faced off with Republican challenger Erin Rider in their first, and likely only, debate ahead of the June 28 primary election.

Listeners who tuned into Tuesday’s GOP 2nd Congressional District debate expecting to find a contrast between incumbent Chris Stewart and challenger Erin Rider were likely disappointed. There’s not much daylight between the two Republicans; not that much pressure was exerted to find it.

If Tuesday’s debate were a piece of music, George Gershwin would title it “Rhapsody in Beige.” It would be from Picasso’s Beige Period if it were a painting. You get the idea.

Stewart and Rider mostly agreed throughout the hourlong discussion covering the Second Amendment, inflation, gas prices and immigration. There was only one question about former President Donald Trump.

This will likely be the only debate between the two Republicans. They both decided to skip a forum sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission following a complaint from Party Chair Carson Jorgensen that the Utah GOP should have a say in picking topics and moderators for Republican debates.

More than a third of the evening focused on the aftermath of last week’s massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead. What, if anything, do they think can be done in response?

“I don’t want to make hasty policy, but we should be able to have everything on the table right now,” Rider said, saying any solution must include a look at school security and mental health.

Republican Erin Rider is challenging Rep. Chris Stewart for the GOP nomination in Utah's 2nd Congressional District in 2022.

“We could stop mass shootings in schools, but it’s not going to be through gun control, it’s going to be through an answer that I can’t believe people aren’t talking about more, and that is through school security,” Stewart agreed, proposing Congress repurpose unspent COVID-relief money. Both Stewart and Rider said the “Second Amendment was given to us for a reason” in discussing their reluctance to endorse any specific gun control measures but did not explain what they thought that reason might be.

Both candidates were wary of red flag laws, which allow a court to temporarily take guns from dangerous people, worrying they could be overly broad or abused. Rider and Stewart also threw cold water on expanded background checks, saying it would not have prevented last week’s tragedy.

They did agree that there should be more of a focus on mental illness but did not offer any specifics on addressing the issue.

Stewart and Rider blamed President Joe Biden and Democrats for rising inflation and high gas prices.

“If you’re a mom and you stopped to fill up the minivan, and it’s $6 a gallon, that’s a big deal. This president caused it. We should increase our production of oil. It’s that simple,” Stewart said. “Give us $2 a gallon gas once again.”

“We went from being energy independent to having this terrible gas crisis, and we suddenly got caught off guard by this? That doesn’t cut it. That’s one of the hardest things about the Biden administration right now,” Rider added. “There is no plan; there is no vision for the future. We’re just reacting to things.”

For much of the debate, Rider and Stewart seemed very similar. They both believe immigration is a problem and would not oppose restarting construction on the border wall.

It took Rider 52 minutes to contrast with Stewart by criticizing him and congressional Republicans for blaming Democrats for problems without offering any solutions for immigration reform.

“We are not going to get the kind of answers we need if we keep reelecting the same people over and over again,” Rider said.

The most significant contrast of the night came during the only question about Trump and whether the candidates would seek his endorsement. Stewart pointed out that Rider did not vote for him in 2020.

“I did support the former president. He and I became close, and my opponent didn’t vote for him, so I think it’s unlikely he’s going to endorse her,” Stewart said.