Kathleen Riebe nominated by Utah Democrats for special congressional election

‘This election is an opportunity for our party that we can’t afford to waste,” Riebe told Democratic delegates ahead of Wednesday night’s vote.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, asks a question as the Senate Education Committee discusses HB215, on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Riebe was nominated by Democrats in a June 28 special contention to run in Utah's 2nd Congressional District special election this fall.

Utah Democrats picked state Sen. Kathleen Riebe as their nominee in the election to replace Rep. Chris Stewart, who is stepping down from Congress in September.

Wednesday’s virtual convention for Democrats to select a nominee for November’s special election stood in stark contrast to the multi-day drama engulfing the Utah GOP following Celeste Maloy’s surprise victory on Saturday.

Utah’s 2nd Congressional District leans heavily Republican. Stewart carried the district by nearly 25 points in 2022, so a Democratic win would be a massive upset. Riebe told Democrats she believes that’s possible because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the special election.

“This election is an opportunity for our party that we can’t afford to waste. There’s a chance to energize our voters and make up ground in what will undoubtedly be a low-turnout election,” Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, said.

Riebe was opposed by longtime Democratic activist Archie Williams and technology executive Guy Warner.

The state senator and school teacher received nearly 86% of the delegate’s support during the first and only round of ranked choice voting Wednesday, securing her spot in the Nov. 21 special general election.

“Unlike the Republican party, we are emerging from our convention united behind our nominee and ready to hit the ground running in the general election,” party Chair Diane Lewis said in a statement announcing Riebe’s victory.

Riebe thanked delegates in a statement Wednesday night, adding, “Now the work begins.”

In a speech ahead of the vote, Williams said Utah Democrats consistently lose elections because they nominate candidates who do not appeal to a wide range of voters. He argued the only way to change that outcome is to change the type of candidates they send to the ballot.

“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing over and over and over again, expecting to win these races with people that cannot win. Nancy Pelosi warned states like Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, every state controlled by the Republicans, you have to pick Democrats that have a chance to win — not ones that look good on paper but have no chance of winning at all,” Williams told delegates Wednesday night.

Warner took a swipe at the GOP-controlled Legislature’s rush to hold the election to replace Stewart as quickly as possible.

“Thank you to the Utah GOP for wasting millions of dollars on a special election that’s only happening because of their allegiance to Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy and not the people of Utah,” Warner said. “They failed to understand they created a great situation where we (Democrats) can win.”

On Tuesday evening, the United Utah Party nominated January Walker as their candidate for November’s special election. Walker unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the 4th Congressional District in 2022, finishing more than 50 points behind the eventual winner, Republican Burgess Owens.