Nick Mitchell and Chris Stewart spar over 2020 election and abortion during Utah’s 2nd Congressional District debate

Republican Stewart, Democrat Mitchell and Constitutionalist Cassie Easley met on the debate stage at Southern Utah University to talk trust in government, abortion and inflation.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart’s decision to vote against certifying the 2020 presidential election was the subject of a heated exchange between the Republican incumbent and his Democratic challenger, Nick Mitchell, at a Friday night debate.

The two candidates running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, joined by Cassie Easley of the Constitution Party, took the stage at Southern Utah University in Cedar City to spar on trust in government, abortion and inflation as part of a debate hosted by the Utah Debate Commission.

“The one thing I wish our government stopped doing is simply lying to us,” the congressman told moderator Boyd Matheson when asked about how to regain Americans’ trust. Stewart continued, “To have the CDC or other health professionals say things that they know at the time are not true, and they’ll come back in a bit later on it that they knew that it wasn’t true. It breaks faith in basic institutions.”

(Asher Swan | Pool) Nick Mitchell speaks during the 2nd Congressional District debate in Cedar City, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.

Mitchell, who prior to Stewart’s answer said that the way to rebuild trust is by keeping corporate money out of politics, challenged the congressman, saying, “It’s interesting that Rep. Stewart brought up truth, because on Jan. 6 we had an opportunity to do the right thing, the truthful thing, and he chose not to certify the election. Even after the Capitol was stormed, he chose not to do it.”

On Jan. 4, 2021, Stewart announced in a tweet that he was not going to vote to certify the 2020 presidential election results. Before he would affirm those results, he wrote on Twitter at the time, “voting irregularities” needed to be resolved. After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Stewart joined Rep. Burgess Owens in being the only members of Utah’s federal delegation not to certify Pennsylvania’s votes.

Had Pennsylvania’s results not been certified, Stewart argued at the debate, it wouldn’t have changed who is in the White House, but he was concerned about the legality of the state’s election process.

“Honestly, if you’re going to make that kind of an accusation, which is essentially treason, you should understand for sure if it’s true or not,” Stewart said, responding to Mitchell.

Americans’ trust in another branch of government, the U.S. judicial system, has sunk to a historic low in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling earlier this year that abortion is not a constitutional right, according to public opinion pollster Gallup.

While Easley and Stewart shared similar beliefs on the federal government’s role in abortion policy, Mitchell differed with his opponents. Both Easley and the incumbent are anti-abortion, and both said they support states having the ability to make their own policies on it.

“When it comes to abortion, I am against it, but I am for women being able to make choices,” Easley said. “You should choose not to have sex because it does cause pregnancy if you do not want to get pregnant, or use protection.”

Under a trigger law that went into effect in Utah after the Supreme Court’s ruling, abortions are banned with limited exceptions. That law, however, is temporarily on hold while Utah courts determine its legality.

“I want everyone to know that I am for a woman being able to make that choice,” Mitchell said. “The problem I have with it being pushed back to the states is that it’s not really being pushed back to the states, or the people. It’s a handful of legislators making the decision for the people.”

(Asher Swan | Pool) Rep. Chris Stewart, right, speaks during the 2nd Congressional District debate in Cedar City, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.

Stewart told viewers that he thinks “it’s worth drawing attention to” the fact that some members of the Democratic Party “say they would allow abortion up to the moment of birth.”

“I can’t conceive of how someone could find that morally justifiable when we know the viability of that infant, or that child, is months before that,” Stewart said.

Mitchell countered that the Republican Party’s stance on abortions includes exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Looking at Stewart, he asked, hypothetically, if a to-be mother’s health was compromised by a heart issue, even if she were scheduled to deliver in a week, would she qualify for an abortion?

“So we cannot determine as a government when the life of the mother is in danger enough for her to make that decision,” the Democrat said. “And if it’s in that last trimester, they have a name picked out; I did. They have a room ready for that baby; I did.”

According to the Center for Disease Control’s most recent abortion surveillance report, which is based on data from 2019, “nearly all” abortions are performed prior to 13 weeks.

(Asher Swan | Pool) Congressional candidate Cassie Easley gives remarks at the 2nd Congressional District debate in Cedar City, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.

On inflation, both Stewart and Mitchell pointed fingers at the other’s party, with the congressman blaming it on large spending bills, and Mitchell saying to the media after the debate that it’s a consequence of former President Donald Trump’s tax cuts.

Easley said the solution to inflation is cutting taxes, government spending and regulation.

Also running for the 2nd Congressional District seat is Jay McFarland with the United Utah Party, who, according to the most recent FEC filings, has raised four times what Mitchell has, while Easley has not raised enough to submit an FEC filing. McFarland did not reach a polling threshold set by the Utah Debate Commission to participate in the debate.

Watch the full debate here.