John Curtis wins Utah’s U.S. Senate GOP primary to replace Mitt Romney

Early, unofficial results published after Utah’s polls closed showed Curtis was leading GOP delegate-endorsed candidate Trent Staggs.

U.S. Rep. John Curtis claimed victory shortly after the polls closed on Tuesday night in the Republican primary election to succeed Mitt Romney in the U.S. Senate. Curtis’ win was a strong rebuke of Republican delegates, who overwhelmingly endorsed Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs over Curtis at April’s GOP state nominating convention.

According to unofficial early returns, Curtis leads delegate-favorite Trent Staggs 52.22% to 28.23%. Those numbers brought a big cheer from the several hundred Curtis supporters who stood in the sweltering heat in Provo to support the congressman.

Curtis became emotional as he praised his family during his victory speech at Provo’s Riverview Park.

“In those moments when I was trying to decide if I was going to do this, the loudest voices came from my family,” Curtis told the crow.

Curtis acknowledged that his win will not defuse his tense relationship with Utah Republican delegates, who have been critical of him for, in their eyes, not being sufficiently conservative.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Senate candidate Rep. John Curtis speaks to supporters in Provo, Tuesday, June 25, 2024, after winning the GOP nomination.

“I think it’s fair to say that I have worked on mending those relationships for seven years. I will continue to work to represent all Utahns, and the delegates are a big part of that,” Curtis said. “If you expect me to be like Mitt Romney, you’re going to be disappointed. If you expect me to be like Mike Lee, you’re also going to be disappointed.”

Staggs, who attended a joint watch party with Rep. Celeste Maloy in West Valley City on Tuesday evening, appeared to arrive to the event shortly before results began to publish around 8 p.m. When early results showed Curtis with an early lead over the crowded field of candidates, Staggs and his campaign staff retreated to the entryway of the Utah Trucker Association building.

He never made another public appearance at the watch party and a staffer cleared his campaign table around 9:30 p.m.

Curtis is a heavy favorite in November’s election. Utah last sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate, Frank Moss, in 1970. Republicans have won 17 straight U.S. Senate elections since.

The four-way race has been dominated by big money and big-name endorsements.

Brad Wilson, the former Utah House speaker, and Moxie Pest CEO Jason Walton poured millions of dollars from their own wallets into their campaigns. Outside groups spent several million dollars on ads and mailers backing Curtis’ efforts.

Since entering the race for Romney’s seat last year, Wilson loaned his campaign $3 million but only raised $27,000 in April and May. Wilson has seemingly thrown in the towel on the race, pulling back on advertising and other efforts to attract voters.

Wilson conceded the race to Curtis in an email statement on Tuesday night.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to campaign across the state and meet so many incredible people along the way,” Wilson’s statement read. “I look forward to supporting our Republican nominee as we work together to protect the Utah Way and defend our values for generations to come.”

Similarly, Walton has loaned his operation $2.5 million since declaring his candidacy. That money has gone for naught as he struggled to gain traction with GOP primary voters.

Outside groups are behind an onslaught of spending on behalf of Curtis. Several super PACs have spent $7.7 million supporting Curtis and another $1.9 million attacking Staggs. The resulting onslaught of advertising to support Curtis has been a sore spot for the three other Republicans in the race.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Senate candidate Rep. John Curtis receives a phone call from U.S. Sen. Mike Lee while attending a primary election party in Provo, Tuesday, June 25, 2024.

“It looks to me like there’s this banner waving over the state of Utah that says U.S. Senate seats for sale. I don’t think that’s right, and I don’t think the people of Utah appreciate that,” Wilson told reporters following a televised debate earlier this month.

Curtis is not the only beneficiary of outside spending. Protect Freedom PAC, linked to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has put more than $700,000 behind Staggs.

While Staggs received outside support from a super PAC linked to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, he leaned hard into collecting endorsements, hoping that would be enough to get him over the finish line. The most prominent endorsement for Staggs came from former President Donald Trump, coming just hours before his victory at April’s GOP nominating convention. Trump reiterated his support for Staggs in a video posted to social media on Saturday.

Following Trump’s endorsement and the nominating convention, Staggs’ campaign raised $260,000, according to disclosures. Staggs has touted endorsements from other out-of-state Trump allies, including Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake. Like Trump, those endorsements did not move the needle much for Staggs.

In the end, Trump’s stamp of approval did not provide the boost for Staggs’ campaign that he had hoped.

Wilson leaned on endorsements from many of his former colleagues in the Utah Legislature and Gov. Spencer Cox, but it hasn’t help him gain traction with Utah Republicans.

The GOP primary has been one of the most expensive elections in recent memory. In total, the dozen Republican candidates who started the race and outside groups have spent more than $25 million ahead of the primary election.

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