Becky Edwards wants to take fiscal responsibility and women’s empowerment to Congress

Utah’s 2nd Congressional District special primary election: Edwards is using her 2022 Senate run to propel her race in this year’s special primary election to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress.

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Editor’s note • This profile is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of this year’s special congressional election. Profiles for Republicans Bruce Hough, Celeste Maloy and Democrat Kathleen Riebe can be found at these links.

When the news that Rep. Chris Stewart was leaving Washington broke in May, Becky Edwards was at a physical therapy appointment, working on recovering from a skiing injury. Someone sent her the report in a text, and she made up her mind.

“I looked at my physical therapist, I’m like, ‘This appointment’s done. I’ve got to go home,’” Edwards recollected. “‘Everything okay?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, but I think I’m running for Congress.’”

The former state lawmaker made waves when she announced in 2021 that she was mounting a Republican primary challenge against incumbent Sen. Mike Lee, one of the Senate’s most conservative elected members and an ally of indicted former President Donald Trump. She couldn’t pull off the upset — Lee beat Edwards by approximately 30 percentage points, and out-fundraised her, raking in millions of dollars.

But that loss set her up to jump into this year’s surprise special election. She has better name recognition this time around and has tapped into the same volunteer base she used for last year’s election.

And she has an edge on her opponents financially. Edwards has so far raised $207,000 — more than double what either of her opponents have pulled in. She also loaned herself $100,000, allowing her to spend tens of thousands on TV and radio ads this month, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Rep. Becky Edwards launches her U.S. Senate campaign against Mike Lee in the Capitol Rotunda, on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

Like in the Senate race, Edwards attended the GOP convention but didn’t secure the nomination. Instead, she qualified for the primary ballot by collecting 7,000 signatures within four weeks (a route to the ballot made possible by a bill she voted for in 2014).

That path is frequently taken by more moderate Republicans in the state, like Rep. John Curtis in the 2017 special election for his seat, and Sen. Mitt Romney in 2018.

Just as Curtis and Romney have, Edwards has run up against opponents calling her a “RINO,” or Republican in name only.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily fair,” said state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. He served with her in the Legislature for seven of the 10 years she was there, and her House district was within his Senate district. Weiler also sponsored some of her most high-profile bills on his side of the Capitol, but hasn’t decided who he’ll back in the special election.

“While she was in the state Legislature, I think she voted with the Republicans the vast majority of times,” Weiler said, adding that Davis County Republican delegates elected her to run for her legislative post five times. “So, I think she’s Republican.”

Edwards has faced that criticism since the beginning of her political career. When she ousted incumbent Rep. Paul Neuenschwander, he questioned whether she was a true Republican after she voted in the Democratic primary in 2008. She cast that vote after finding out at the polls that her Republican voter registration had lapsed, she told The Salt Lake Tribune.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Congressional District 2 candidate Becky Edwards visits with guests during a volunteer event at at her home in North Salt Lake, on Thursday, July 27, 2023.

In 2020, Edwards was also one of the Republicans to cast aside party allegiance and vote for President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump. When asked about the vote at a debate this summer, Edwards said she’s been “extremely disappointed” in the administration, and regrets her decision.

“I want to see someone in the White House who’s able to stand up to the extremes in both parties,” Edwards told The Tribune. “I have not seen that as strong with President Biden. I see that polarization and that magnetic pull to the extremes in the Democratic Party, pulling him in a way that I think has been detrimental to bipartisan efforts.”

Working across the political spectrum is something Edwards said she learned during her decade in the Legislature and believes that’s what most qualifies her for the position. While there, Edwards added, she ended up working most closely with people who were diametrically opposed to some of her proposals.

One example might be former Republican state Rep. Mike Noel, of Kanab, who held up Edwards’ efforts to send a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon — the first woman elected to a state Senate — to represent Utah at the U.S. Capitol. Noel was also one of a few Republican lawmakers to vote against Edwards’ resolution recognizing the impacts of climate change and encouraging “economically viable and broadly supported solutions” to combat it.

His Kane County home is now listed as a place where Edwards’ supporters can pick up yard signs. Noel didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Because the 2nd Congressional District stretches from north of Salt Lake City to some of Utah’s most rural counties in the south, Edwards says she’ll “keep the entirety of the state in mind” when voting on legislation. From a policy perspective, she’s focused on more fiscal responsibility and thoughtful stewardship of resources as the state faces unprecedented growth.

Edwards also said she plans to continue her work around “empowering women.” With a background in social work and marriage and family therapy, and wants to advocate for women’s mental and reproductive health.

She said she supports states’ rights to create their own abortion policy, but is concerned by some of the impacts she sees around the country. Congress, she said, may have a role in “(ensuring) that states have the information they need to make good, reasonable, thoughtful, nuanced decisions on behalf of ... women and girls.”

The founder of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, Sharlee Mullins Glenn, met Edwards when she was pushing for Cannon’s likeness to be sent to Washington. She said she was “incredibly impressed” with Edwards, and since her Senate run has hoped the former lawmaker will end up in the nation’s capital, too.

“I’m hoping that people will see her as the balanced, genuine conservative that she is,” Mullins Glenn said. “She’s the only one that has an actual voting record that people can look at, and if you look at that record, it becomes very clear that she is a principled, balanced conservative. That’s who she is, that’s who she’s always been and that’s what Utah needs.”