For the first time in decades, Republican primary voters will decide the GOP nominees for the U.S. Senate and U.S House instead of delegates at the party’s convention. This year’s five Republican congressional primary elections are the most in Utah history, as the 4th Congressional District did not exist before 2012.
A big reason for contended races is Utah’s SB54, which passed in 2014 and allowed candidates to submit voter signatures to advance to the primary election. Four primary contests feature at least one candidate who took the signature route to avoid defeat at the state convention.
Sen. Mike Lee is facing his most challenging election since he first ran in 2010. That year, GOP convention delegates kicked three-term incumbent Bob Bennett to the curb, sending Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater to the primary ballot.
Lee barely squeaked into that primary election. Had Bridgewater secured just 89 more votes from delegates, he would have won the primary outright, ending Lee’s U.S. Senate career before it started. In the primary, Lee prevailed by just over 4,600 votes. Lee cruised to a victory that November. No one challenged him for the GOP nomination six years later, and he breezed to another term.
This year, Lee has two challengers for the GOP nomination, Becky Edwards and Ally Isom. All three submitted signatures to guarantee a spot in the primary. Had the decision been up to GOP delegates, Lee would already be the nominee. He got nearly 71% support at the convention, Edwards was just under 12%, and Isom was close to 10%.
Edwards, who served in the Utah House from 2009 to 2018, is more moderate than Lee. During her time in the Legislature, she championed more investment in affordable housing, tax credits so businesses can provide paid family leave and backed the bill creating the signature path for candidates to get on the ballot. Before launching her campaign, she and her husband served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in American Samoa.
Isom has not held an elected position before but was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Kaysville City Council in 2010. She resigned that position a year later to become the spokesperson and deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Gary Herbert. She resigned from the Herbert administration in 2013 to spend more time with her family, later taking a position with the LDS Church. She recently held a leadership position with a small biotech firm but resigned to launch her Senate campaign.
Both Edwards and Isom opposed former President Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020. Isom renounced her membership in the Utah GOP the day after Trump was elected in 2016. Edwards said Trump was “rightfully” impeached for his role in inciting the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Lee has become a close ally of Trump after initially opposing his nomination and election. Lee was part of an effort at the 2016 Republican National Convention to block Trump from winning the nomination and later called on Trump to drop out of the presidential race following the release of a videotape of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. Since then, Lee has become a staunch defender of Trump, even comparing him to the Book of Mormon hero Captain Moroni.
Dave Hansen, the longtime campaign manager for former Sen. Orrin Hatch, says there are several reasons Lee should be considered the favorite to win in June.
“He hasn’t had any major screw-ups while in office. He’s considered the ‘true conservative’ in the race, and Republican primary elections are heavy on conservative voters. Plus, he’s the most anti-Biden candidate, who is his real opponent,” Hansen said.
Usually, the winner of the GOP nomination is on a glide path to victory in November. Voters in the Beehive State haven’t elected a Democrat in a statewide race in more than a generation, the last being Jan Graham for Attorney General in 1992.
This year’s GOP nominee won’t face a Democrat in the Senate race, as Democrats chose to back independent candidate Evan McMullin, who they say has a better shot at winning if Lee wins the nomination. McMullin is a retired CIA officer and ran against Donald Trump in the 2016 election, receiving 21.5% of the vote in Utah.
Also on the menu is a full slate of congressional primaries as all four incumbents have drawn challengers this year. Thanks to the redistricting process, the eventual winners look to have an easy path to a win in November, which resulted in maps with a pronounced Republican advantage.
1st Congressional District
Freshman Rep. Blake Moore barely won the GOP nomination in the 1st District two years ago, defeating three challengers in the primary with just 31% support. This year he has two challengers.
Moore is a former Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State and has leadership positions on the House Natural Resources Committee and the Armed Services Committee.
Former Morgan County Commissioner Tina Cannon is making her second run for the seat after being knocked out of the race at the GOP convention in 2020. She took the signature-gathering route to the ballot to avoid repeating her convention loss.
Political newcomer Andrew Badger qualified for the primary with 59% of the delegate vote at the GOP convention. The Harvard and Oxford-educated former civilian intelligence officer describes himself as part of the “America First” agenda popularized by Trump.
Badger and Cannon have both said they’d make “election integrity” a priority, a frequent talking point from Trump, who continues to push falsehoods about fraud in the 2020 election. Moore has repeatedly said Joe Biden won the 2020 election and there is no proof to support Trump’s claims of malfeasance.
Badger recently traveled to a rally held by Trump in Casper, Wyoming, for Sen. Liz Cheney’s primary opponent, Harriet Hageman.
2nd Congressional District
Rep. Chris Stewart, seeking his sixth term in Congress, is on the primary election ballot for the very first time. In his five previous campaigns, Stewart secured the Republican nomination at the GOP convention, then coasted to a win against a Democrat in November.
Despite receiving 84% of the vote at the convention, Stewart still faces attorney Erin Rider, who took the signature route to the ballot.
Stewart, a former Air Force pilot and author, is a staunch supporter of Trump and joined Utah’s Rep. Burgess Owens in voting to throw out the electoral votes of Pennsylvania in the 2020 election when President Joe Biden won the state.
That vote was one reason that attorney Erin Rider cites for entering the race, and she says she would like to see American politics return to civility.
Rider is a former congressional staffer for the late Sen. Orrin Hatch. According to Rider’s campaign biography, she received a dual J.D./M.B.A. from Georgetown University and has been a practicing corporate attorney since leaving the Hill.
She has criticized Stewart for not delivering on his campaign promises to address the federal deficit and balance the federal budget.
3rd Congressional District
For the third time in four elections, Rep. John Curtis faces Chris Herrod for the GOP nomination in the 3rd District.
In the 2017 special election to replace Jason Chaffetz, Herrod was the convention winner. Curtis and Tanner Ainge gathered signatures for a spot in the GOP primary election, which Curtis won with 43%. Curtis walloped Herrod in the primary 73-27% a year later.
Curtis courted political disaster this year by foregoing the signature route and putting his fate in the hands of delegates at the GOP convention. He received 45% of the vote to move to the primary. Had Herrod captured just 114 more votes, he would have won the Republican nomination outright.
Curtis sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and highlighted the need to reach across the aisle to pass legislation at a recent debate. He also is a founder of the House Conservative Climate Caucus, which aims to find market-driven solutions to dealing with climate change.
If elected, Herrod has promised to bring a staunchly conservative presence to Congress. He has also talked about forming conservative coalitions to form caucuses of like-minded individuals. He is a firm supporter of the Second Amendment and has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
He says he opposes federal overreach, critical race theory and environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores, numbers that allow investors to rank companies on their social and environmental impact. During a debate against Curtis on May 27, he suggested cutting the Department of Education altogether.
In 2007, Herrod and Curtis ran to fill a vacancy in the Utah House, but neither was able to win 60% of delegate support, leaving the decision to then-state GOP chair Enid Mickelsen. She decided to appoint Herrod, even though he got fewer votes than Curtis, and forwarded his name to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman. Mickelsen chose Herrod partly because Curtis previously served as the Utah County Democratic Party Chairman.
Curtis was elected Mayor of Provo in 2009 and was reelected in 2013.
Herrod unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate against Orrin Hatch in 2012 and lost in a primary election for a state Senate seat in 2016 against Sen. Curt Bramble.
4th Congressional District
This is the second-straight primary for freshman Rep. Burgess Owens, who emerged from a crowded Republican field in 2020 to squeeze past Democrat Ben McAdams by 3,765 votes.
Owens joined Utah’s Stewart in voting to reject Pennsylvania’s electoral votes after Biden won the state in 2020. Owens also highlighted false claims of a stolen election through his social media posts in the days leading up to and on Jan. 6.
In December, Owens told the crowd at Turning Point USA’s “America Fest” that he opposed transgender individuals competing in sports and said, “God created two genders. Men and women, period.” Owens introduced the Say No To Indoctrination Act, which would have withheld federal funds to “advance discriminatory concepts informed by Critical Race Theory.” The bill ultimately failed.
Hunsaker worked for Google, attended Brigham Young University and went on a mission for The LDS Church. Last year, Hunsaker told The Tribune he was running to counter what he sees as Owens’ and Trump’s embrace of divisiveness.
For example, Hunsaker said he too opposes critical race theory in Utah schools but disagrees with Owens’ response to the issue.
Hunsaker has been endorsed by Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s “Country First” PAC.
Correction • An earlier version of this article omitted Ally Isom’s experience on the Kaysville City Council.