Utah’s 2nd Congressional District special election between Republican Celeste Maloy and Democrat Kathleen Riebe was mostly mild and saw the two candidates debate funding for Ukraine, government spending and the specter of a government shutdown.
As she has done throughout the campaign, Maloy either refused to answer questions on Thursday evening or pivoted to policy stances on curbing government spending and reducing federal regulations. For her part, Riebe rarely missed a chance to remind voters about her experience as an elected officeholder and how that would translate to Congress.
The sharpest difference between the two candidates came during a discussion about spending and funding the government. Currently, the federal government is set to run out of funding next month. Unless Congress can pass another spending bill, the government will likely shut down.
Maloy said she would only support a funding package that reduces government spending but wouldn’t use a shutdown as a tool to force spending cuts.
“As long as we’re cutting spending and moving in the right direction, there’s no need to shut down the government. The only time I would support shutting down the government is if the only other option were big spending increases,” the Republican said.
“I would never vote to shut down the government. I think it’s irresponsible,” Riebe countered. “I do believe that we need to cut spending, but not to the detriment of safety and security across the globe.”
Foreign military funding
Maloy and Riebe agreed on the need to provide financial and military support for Israel during the current conflict with Hamas but differed on whether to continue providing support for Ukraine against Russia.
“We have a very different relationship with Israel than we do with Ukraine. We have agreements with Israel that we don’t have with Ukraine. I think that relationship with Israel necessitates a bigger response,” Maloy said.
Maloy expressed skepticism about President Joe Biden’s $105 billion spending proposal that includes military assistance for both Ukraine and Israel. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the package a “starting point” in negotiations.
“The nice thing about our government is that spending bills don’t originate with the president, they originate in the House. I’m running for a seat in the House, so I don’t have to decide whether I support the president’s proposal,” Maloy said. “This is not something that should come out of the White House.”
Riebe said the U.S. should continue to provide military and humanitarian support for both countries.
“We stand with our allies. When we are dealing with these conflicts around the globe, it’s important that we stand with our allies,” Riebe said.
Congress has been paralyzed for much of the last month as Republicans in the House of Representatives struggled to elect a new speaker after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy. Riebe said that self-inflicted chaos should be a good enough reason for voters to cast a ballot for her.
“I think it’s a tragedy what’s been happening at the federal government, and people ask me all the time, why do I want to be a part of politics at all? I think as a person who has a job every day and shows up every day I can bring that to Washington,” Riebe said. “It’s our job. It’s our job to legislate. It’s our job to work together and it’s our job to find solutions.”
Before jumping into the race in June, Maloy was unknown to many, spending the last few years working as a staff attorney in Chris Stewart’s congressional office. She surprised many when she slipped past a field of nearly a dozen other Republicans to win the delegate vote in June, then overwhelmed Becky Edwards and Bruce Hough in September’s primary election.
She has also sidestepped several controversies arising from questions about her background that only surfaced after she had won the delegate vote at the special GOP convention.
Maloy wasn’t registered to vote in Utah when she filed to run for Stewart’s seat, having relocated to Virginia. She remedied the situation the day after the filing period closed and Republican Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office, the state’s top elections official, reached out to the Republican candidate “as a courtesy.” Maloy has also faced criticism for not casting a ballot in the 2022 and 2020 elections. And until asked by The Salt Lake Tribune, Maloy has not disclosed her relationship with far-right, anti-government activists Cliven and Ammon Bundy, her uncle and first cousin.
Maloy is a heavy favorite to succeed her former boss in Congress following November’s election. According to political data firm L2, Republicans comprise half of all registered voters in the 2nd Congressional District, while just 15% are Democrats. About a quarter of voters (28%) are not affiliated with either party.
Unlike Maloy, Riebe has appeared on a ballot before. She won a spot on the Utah Board of Education in 2016. Riebe was elected to the Utah Senate in 2018 and won reelection to the Legislature last year. She’s also picked up a significant endorsement this week, winning the stamp of approval from the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of centrist Democrats in Congress.
Politically, Utah’s 2nd District is a study in contrasts between the northern and southern parts of the state. In the 2020 election, Biden’s strongest electoral performances came from Salt Lake, Davis and Tooele Counties. Washington and Iron counties, in the southern part of the state, were the most supportive of Republican Donald Trump. In this year’s special primary election, rural voters helped Maloy secure her spot on the ballot.