What to watch for on a busy Utah primary election day

Jun 25, 2024, 7:39 AM

A voter places her ballot into a secure ballot drop box at the Salt Lake County Government Center i...

A voter places her ballot into a secure ballot drop box at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Nov. 21, 2023. Primary election day is Tuesday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A long and unusually crowded 2024 primary election is almost in the books in Utah, as Republican voters will select their party’s nominees in several statewide and federal races Tuesday.

The ballot has a significant number of compelling races, after Sen. Mitt Romney announced he would step down at the end of his current term, creating a rare open seat in the U.S. Senate. Romney’s seat has four Republicans running, including Rep. John Curtis, whose seat in the 3rd Congressional District is subsequently up for grabs.

A couple of incumbent Republicans — Gov. Spencer Cox and Rep. Celeste Maloy — are also fending off aggressive challengers in hopes of winning reelection.

The race to replace Romney is the most prominent matchup of the night and has drawn millions in investment since the race began. Curtis has long been seen as the frontrunner, and a poll released by Noble Predictive Insights shows the congressman with a commanding lead over the rest of the field with 48% among likely GOP voters.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs is in second with 28%, followed by former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson (9%), and businessman Jason Walton (6%). The margin of error was 4.7%.

Although Staggs was endorsed by former Republican President Donald Trump, that hasn’t been enough for conservative Utah voters in polling, as Staggs’ net favorability rating of plus-1 is dwarfed by Curtis’ plus-32.

County clerks hope for last-minute turnout for Utah primary elections

“In most Republican primaries, Trump’s endorsement essentially guarantees victory,” said David Byler, chief of research at Noble. “But in Utah — a uniquely conservative, yet Trump-skeptical state — the situation is different. Trump’s endorsement helps, but it’s not a golden ticket. A good candidate with the right positioning — like Curtis — can build a lead without Trump’s stamp of approval.”

The same poll asked likely GOP voters to pick between Cox and Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, with 55% supportive of the governor and 42% backing his challenger. Lyman performed much better with rural participants, and with those who described themselves as “Trump-first Republicans.”

“The southern, rural stretches of Utah were a problem for Cox in the 2020 gubernatorial primary, so it’s no surprise that both Cox and Curtis post some of their worst numbers there,” Byler said. “But both Curtis and Cox posted better numbers in the other regions of the state and have a real lead.”

Lyman’s campaign appears increasingly desperate leading up to the election. Lyman has questioned the validity of the signatures Cox submitted to qualify for the ballot — Davis County Clerk Brian McKenzie on Friday reaffirmed the validity of the petition signatures — and has shared social media posts questioning the eventual outcome of the primary election.

The state lawmaker — who has long questioned the 2020 presidential election results in Utah — wouldn’t commit to accepting the results of Tuesday’s election, when asked by reporters earlier this month.

Cox isn’t the only incumbent trying to fend off a challenger. Colby Jenkins, a combat veteran, has picked up the support of Sen. Mike Lee in his bid to unseat Maloy, who is backed by Trump and Cox, in the 2nd Congressional District. The congresswoman is seeking her first full term in office after winning over delegates in a special election last year and only narrowly earned enough votes during the nominating convention this year to qualify for the ballot.

Rep. Blake Moore is also being challenged by Paul Miller, and Republican candidates are vying to fill the vacant statewide seats of attorney general and auditor.

Although many voters have already sent back their mail-in ballots, it’s not too late to vote in person in the primaries. Polling locations and hours can be found on local county clerk websites.

Results are expected to start rolling in shortly after polls close at 8 p.m., though it’s possible not every race will be decided by the end of the night.

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What to watch for on a busy Utah primary election day