Celeste Maloy wins in tight Utah 2nd Congressional District GOP primary

Becky Edwards conceded the race Wednesday evening and Bruce Hough fell behind by more than 11 percentage points.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Celeste Maloy as the Utah Republican Party holds its quarterly State Central Committee meeting in Sandy on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. Maloy was projected to win the primary election on Sept. 6, the day after the primary.

Nearly 24 hours after polls closed Tuesday evening, Celeste Maloy emerged as the apparent winner of the 2nd Congressional District special election to replace her former boss, Rep. Chris Stewart, in Congress.

Special primary election parties thrown by GOP candidates in the 2nd Congressional District ended Tuesday night in a nail-biter between Maloy and Becky Edwards, and disappointment for Bruce Hough.

After the margin between Maloy and Edwards widened in the latest ballot returns released Wednesday afternoon, Edwards conceded the race, saying in a statement that although there were still ballots to be counted, “we have come up short.”

“We ran a campaign that engaged, inspired, and ignited passion, and for that, we are incredibly proud,” read the statement from Edwards, who was widely considered the most moderate of the three Republicans in the race. “While this chapter may be ending, the unity and commitment we’ve witnessed will continue to shape our future.”

About an hour later, Maloy recognized her impending election victory.

“I am both humbled, and honored, to receive this vote of confidence from Utah’s 2nd Congressional District,” Maloy said in a statement Wednesday night to The Salt Lake Tribune. “The past three months have been nothing short of incredible, and I couldn’t have done it without my family, an amazing campaign team, and the support of leaders like Congressman Chris Stewart.”

“I respect anyone who is willing to throw their hat into the arena and run for office,” Maloy added.

She pledged to spend her time ahead of November’s special election uniting Republicans.

“As I’ve said throughout this race, I will represent the entire district,” she continued. “There will not be an area, a county, or a community in this district that will have anything less than my full attention as your representative in Congress.”

Maloy will face state lawmaker Kathleen Riebe, who Democrats picked as their nominee at a virtual convention in June, in the Nov. 21 special general election to replace Stewart.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Becky Edwards and her husband John look at early results during her watch party for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District GOP primary in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023.

In a statement sent Thursday, Riebe welcomed Maloy to the general election race, and remarked on the close primary contest, saying, “the division of the GOP is clear and the extremist right wing has prevailed.”

“Celeste Maloy is out of step with Utah voters,” Riebe’s statement continued. “That makes sense: she’s been gone from our state for a long time. After years in the DC swamp, she’s bringing the misguided thinking and lobbyist dollars she was introduced to back to Utah. Maloy’s divisive positions are copied straight from the right-wing Washington playbook, which she learned well after years as a student of former Representative and MAGA extremist Chris Stewart.”

The Democrat also pointed to their differences on issues like abortion restrictions and social security.

“Whether it’s a reduced cost of living, affordable healthcare, or support for the public employees and union members that are the bedrock of our communities, let’s focus on the real issues,” Riebe said.

The former congressional staffer led Edwards by over 3 percentage points Wednesday, with Maloy claiming 38.13% and the latter collecting 35.14% of the votes, according to early preliminary returns released by the state around 4:30 p.m on Wednesday.

The two were separated by 2,431 votes after county election officials reported an additional 6,377 ballots Wednesday.

Maloy was GOP delegates’ choice at a June nominating convention, beating out Edwards, Hough and several other candidates.

Hough, who trailed behind Maloy and Edwards since the first early preliminary returns dropped on Tuesday evening, also thanked his supporters and congratulated Maloy on Wednesday evening.

“First, I want to thank my wonderful wife and children for supporting me in this endeavor,” Hough said in a statement. “I also want to extend my sincere thanks to all of those that believed in me enough to support, volunteer, or vote for me.”

“I congratulate Celeste on her projected victory. I enjoyed our time together on the campaign trail as we debated in 11 of the counties in the district,” Hough added. “She will provide the citizens of the 2nd District with excellent representation. I support her 100% as she moves forward to the general election.”

“Congratulations to Celeste Maloy! She is a dedicated and brilliant public servant and will make an incredible member of Congress,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox wrote on X Wednesday evening. “She knows this district better than anyone and will make Utah proud. I couldn’t be more excited for her (and us).”

Five of 13 counties — Beaver, Davis, Iron, Kane and Tooele — reported new numbers Wednesday afternoon, according to the state.

In the largest of the five and Edwards’ home county, Davis, the former state lawmaker’s lead shrunk by more than 2 percentage points Wednesday. And in the other four counties, Maloy’s lead stayed constant or improved.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bruce Hough attends an election night event in West Valley City, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023.

Additional tallies are expected Thursday from Salt Lake and Washington counties, both of which have some of the largest numbers of voters in the district.

Earlier Wednesday, Salt Lake County officials told The Salt Lake Tribune there are 8,000 ballots left to go through, but only about 2,600 of those ballots applied to the 2nd District primary. Washington County election officials said they still have around 12,700 ballots to count, although it’s unclear how many are from Republicans voting in the 2nd District race — the county is also conducting multiple nonpartisan municipal primary elections.

Mail-in ballots, which voters were allowed to postmark up until Tuesday, are expected to continue to trickle into election offices throughout the week. Each county with voters living in the 2nd District has two weeks, until Sept. 19, to finish tallying the votes, and must send them to Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office by Sept. 22.

Maloy, who gathered with supporters in Cedar City after polls closed, said in a statement Tuesday night that although the race was too close to call, “... we know we have the momentum and are feeling very optimistic. As we predicted, southern and rural Utah came in strong.”

Late Tuesday evening, Maloy pulled ahead of Edwards by 2 percentage points — a 1,417 vote margin. Edwards’ campaign felt confident earlier in the night as numbers came in from Salt Lake and Davis counties, where much of her base lives, and she started with an early lead.

But farther south, Maloy outperformed the former U.S. Senate candidate, doubling Edwards’ votes in Washington County and earning more than 70% of votes in more rural counties like Beaver, Garfield and Piute.

As ballots continued to roll in Tuesday night, she tweeted, “Strong turnout in Piute County! Rural communities are going to get this done!”

Update, Sept. 7 • This story now includes statements from Bruce Hough and Kathleen Riebe.