Beat at GOP convention, Gov. Cox tells delegates: ‘Maybe you just hate that I don’t hate enough.’

The Utah 2024 Republican Nominating Convention began with delays after glitches in the voting system.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox gets a mixed reaction at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

Nearly 4,000 Republican delegates swarmed the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday morning to pick GOP nominees in races from Utah governor to state school board.

Many of the morning sessions were delayed by more than an hour because of delays with the credentialing process or problems with the electronic voting system.

Delegates were buzzing shortly after the doors opened to the convention hall because of a last-minute endorsement from former President Donald Trump for U.S. Senate candidate Trent Staggs.

“Trent Staggs is 100% MAGA, and is running to fill The Mitt Romney, a Total Loser, Seat as the next Senator from the Great State of Utah!,” Trump posted on Truth Social.

Trump giving his stamp of approval to Staggs was not a surprise. Staggs has spent much of the lead-up to Saturday’s convention courting the endorsement of several figures in Trump’s orbit. On Tuesday morning, supporters handed out screenshots of the post printed on 8x11 paper to delegates passing Staggs’ booth.

That wasn’t the only Trump-related intrigue swirling around the convention on Saturday. Donald Trump, Jr. was a scheduled speaker at the Limitless Arena financial event in West Valley City, leading many to speculate he would make the short trip to the Salt Palace to rally GOP delegates. That did not materialize, however. A representative for Trump’s camp told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was only scheduled to spend a short amount of time in Utah and his schedule did not have room for events with the Utah GOP.

[READ: Utah Democrats to nominate an anti-Biden congressional candidate — only because he promises to step aside]

‘Maybe you hate that I don’t hate enough’

The atmosphere inside the convention hall was decidedly anti-Spencer Cox as delegates booed him when he took the stage.

“I love you guys,” Cox said, trying to lighten the mood.

“We don’t love you,” one delegate yelled back before Cox moved forward with his address.

“Maybe you’re booing me because you hate that I signed the largest tax cut in Utah history. Maybe you hate that I signed constitutional carry into law. Maybe you hate that we ended CRT, DEI and ESG,” Cox said. “Or maybe you hate that I don’t hate enough.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock stands with Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

Cox’s GOP rivals used their time on stage to hammer the incumbent for, in their eyes, not hewing sufficiently to conservative orthodoxy.

“Who here is ready for a real Republican governor?” former Utah GOP Chairman Carson Jorgensen asked delegates, which brought a loud cheer in response.

“Pretending to disagree better lets you pretend to be a conservative,” Jorgensen said, mocking Cox’s “Disagree Better” initiative designed to turn down the temperature in overheated discourse.

Rep. Phil Lyman also received a raucous reception when he came to the stage.

“What we need to win more elections is this. We need more accountants,” Lyman, the only accountant in the race, joked.

Jorgensen, Sylvia Miera-Fisk and Scott Robbins were eliminated in the first round of voting and are out of the race.

Delegates again booed Cox when he came on stage prior to the second round of voting. Despite the jeers, Cox is not in danger of being kicked off the ballot as he gathered signatures to guarantee a spot on the primary ballot.

Lyman came out on top with 67.5% of the vote — Cox a third of delegates’ support. Cox and Lyman now advance to the primary election.

Lyman’s lieutenant governor pick may not meet residency requirements

Earlier in the day, Lyman tapped former Trump administration Layne Bangerter as his running mate. However, Bangerter may not meet the residency requirements to hold the office under the Utah Constitution.

Bangerter was a resident of Idaho before relocating to Utah in 2021, according to the website for his ranch in Gunlock. The Idaho Secretary of State’s office shows Bangerter made a donation to Republican Raul Labrador’s gubernatorial campaign using an Idaho address in 2022. Bangerter did not register to vote in Utah until 2022.

The Utah Constitution says candidates for governor and lieutenant governor must have been a resident of the state for five years before running for office. The earliest Bangerter could be eligible to serve as lieutenant governor in Utah is 2026, which, if elected, would be two years into Lyman’s first term.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Phil Lyman and Layne Bangerter celebrate at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

Bangerter told The Tribune on Saturday that he relocated to Utah in 2021, but he had lived in Utah for 30 years while raising his children.

“I was raised here. Alpine Elementary to American Fork High School to BYU. 30 years of my life,” Bangerter said. “If I don’t meet the requirements to hold office, then Mitt Romney didn’t, either.”

Although, the two situations are not comparable. The U.S. Constitution governs residency requirements for Congress, specifying that a U.S. Senator must only be a resident of the state they represent when they are elected. The five-year residency requirement for state-level officers is outlined in the Utah Constitution.

Lyman said Saturday that he was aware of the issue with Bangerter’s residency but thinks he’s on solid ground.

“I won’t be surprised if it’s challenged. I hope it’s not, but if it is, I think we’ll win it,” Lyman said. “I’ve talked to a number of attorneys over the last few days. That was a huge concern right up front.”

Lyman’s selection of a candidate who may not meet the residency requirements is ironic because just two years ago he challenged the residency of Davina Smith, his Democratic challenger for the Utah Legislature.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Sen. Mike Lee endorses Colby Jenkins at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

Lyman’s potential campaign misstep echoes the embarrassing situation in which Utah Democrats found themselves nearly a quarter of a century ago. In 2000, Utah Democrats recruited oil company executive Gregg Lassen as their candidate for governor that year. Lassen had only lived in Utah since 1997 and was not eligible to hold the office.

In 2014, then-Gov. Gary Herbert was defeated at the GOP convention by challenger Jonathan Johnson 55-45%. Herbert went on to crush Johnson in the primary election 72-28%.

Delegates nominate Staggs for U.S. Senate

Nearly 12 hours after the convention was gaveled to order, the marquee race of the night began. Ten Republicans had been wooing delegates for months, hoping to get a shot at the nomination to replace Sen. Mitt Romney in Washington.

Staggs — who joined the race before any other candidate and when he still thought he would have a shot at challenging Romney — got a rock-star reception from delegates when he took the stage shortly after 10 p.m.

“Donald Trump called me at six this morning to tell me I had his full endorsement in this race,” Staggs said, his voice cracking from excitement, exhaustion or both.

Shortly before midnight — and minutes before the GOP’s contract with the Salt Palace was to expire, chair Rob Axson said — Staggs locked up the lone delegate ticket to the primary election. After four rounds, Staggs defeated Curtis on the final ballot 69.74% to 30.26%.

This is not the largest-ever Republican field for an open congressional seat, but it’s close. In 2018, a dozen Republicans crowded onto the convention ballot to replace the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. Unlike Saturday, that election only took two rounds of voting, with Romney and state lawmaker Mike Kennedy advancing to the primary.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Senate candidate Trent Staggs at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

Three of the candidates had already booked their tickets to the primary election prior to Saturday. John Curtis, Brad Wilson and Jason Walton collected the required 28,000 signatures to forestall a premature end to their campaigns. Brent Hatch — the late Sen. Hatch’s son — also attempted to collect signatures, but fell short, leaving the delegate vote as his only path to the primary.

Wilson, who catapulted from his career as a real estate developer to the Utah House Speaker, has based much of his campaign on construction metaphors. In the morning, he tabled in a partially framed home. Late Saturday night, he referenced a primary song well-known by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a number of delegates in the crowd recognized it as they performed the accompanying hand gestures.

“Are we going to stake our future on rock solid conservative who’s tested and trusted to weather the storm? Or do we want our country to wash away because we are fooled by another phony?” Wilson asked rhetorically.

Curtis arguably has the most name recognition of any Senate candidate who graced the stage Saturday. Come his departure in 2025, he will have spent 4 1/2 terms representing the 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Congressional incumbents lose at convention

Delegates also rebuffed the incumbent in the 1st Congressional District — Rep. Blake Moore.

Paul Miller received 54.9% of the vote over Moore’s 45.1%. While that result wouldn’t have been enough to boot Moore off the primary ballot, the congressman already secured his spot by gathering signatures.

Moore holds the most powerful positions of any of Utah’s congressional representatives as vice chair of the House GOP Caucus and a member of the Ways and Means, as well as Budget committees.

Sen. Mike Lee, a figure whose endorsement in conservative Utah has become almost synonymous with Trump’s, introduced 2nd Congressional District candidate Colby Jenkins, who the senator boosted with an unexpected endorsement over his incumbent opponent Thursday.

Cheers followed as Jenkins took jabs at Rep. Celeste Maloy for votes to extend a revised Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and support for an omnibus spending bill, saying, “I hear you, and I’m with you.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Congressional candidate Colby Jenkins at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

She countered with an introduction from her 4th Congressional District colleague, Rep. Burgess Owens, who is also popular among delegates.

“I refuse to be a rubber stamp, and I will not bow down to anyone,” Maloy told delegates. “I’m not going to bow down to the party, to leadership, to the media or to a senator.”

Maloy did not gather signatures and asked delegates to reward her trust in them.

Ultimately Jenkins received 56.85% of delegates’ support, leaving Maloy with 43.15%.

It took two and a half hours and six excruciating rounds of voting for Kennedy to advance to the primary in the 3rd District. He bested eight other candidates, eventually receiving just over 61% of the delegate vote in the final round.

Kennedy joins signature-gathering candidates Stewart Peay, JR Bird, Case Lawrence and John Dougall in the June primary.

The five-person primary will be the largest ever in Utah since the advent of the signature-gathering path for candidates in the 2016 election. The winner of that primary could do so with a plurality instead of a majority.

Elsewhere in the state

Both the attorney general and auditor races will head to a primary election in June.

Previously a prospective U.S. Senate candidate, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced in December, as he was mired in scandal, that he would not seek reelection. Current Auditor John Dougall is running to represent the 3rd Congressional District.

Derek Brown was eliminated in the first round of voting with 17 percentage points of delegate votes but gathered enough signatures to make it onto the June 25 primary ballot.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney General candidate Rachel Terry at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

During the second round of votes, Utah Division of Risk Management Director Rachel Terry qualified for the ballot by less than a quarter of a percentage point. Frank Mylar secured more 59.76% of delegate votes.

Weber County Clerk Auditor Ricky Hatch received the majority of delegate support, but not enough to keep opponent Tina Cannon, who is a policy advisor in the state auditor’s office, off the ballot. The two were separated by 4 percentage points.

Bubbling just below the surface among many delegates is anger over 2014′s SB54, which allows candidates to advance to the primary election by gathering signatures no matter what happens at the convention.

During the morning elections for legislative and school board seats, state Sen. Curt Bramble was confronted by a delegate who demanded to know why he co-sponsored SB54.

“I didn’t co-sponsor SB54, I was the architect,” Bramble said.

Bramble, who is retiring from the Legislature after 24 years, said he was frustrated about the “revisionist history” that has sprung up among delegates about SB54. He explained when lawmakers created the signature path in 2014, a proposed ballot initiative was threatening to eliminate the caucus/convention system for nominating candidates altogether.

“That initiative was polling with better than 70% approval among registered Republicans and even higher among unaffiliated voters and Democrats,” Bramble said. “It was clear to me and the Legislature that initiative would pass and do away with the convention system entirely. We wanted to preserve the caucus system, and this was the only way to do that.”

Former Sen. Dan Hemmert, who is running to replace Bramble, told delegates the caucus system gives them a lot of power, but they’re not using it in the way the system was originally intended.

“We’re no longer vetting candidates. We’re not asking if this person can actually do the job. We’re focusing on ideological purity. What we’re focusing on isn’t even stuff that matters a lot. Stuff like — no offense — pieces of fabric. Whether they care about the flag tells you nothing,” Hemmert said. “I’m concerned we’re getting elected officials despite this process and not because of it.”

Hemmert will face Rep. Keven Stratton in a primary election for the GOP nomination in June.

One of Bramble’s colleagues — Woods Cross Sen. Todd Weiler in District 8 — will also head to a primary. He got 53% of the delegate vote, and Ronald Mortensen, with 47%, will show up next to Weiler on the ballot.

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