Election 2024: U.S. Rep. John Curtis wins Utah GOP primary for Romney’s open seat

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Two moderate Utah Republicans won U.S. Senate and gubernatorial primaries Tuesday over far-right candidates loyal to former President Donald Trump, the latest example of how Utah is a rare republican state it does not fully reflect Trump’s hold on the Republican Party.

U.S. Rep. John Curtis, who won the GOP primary for Mitt Romney, a vacant seat in the US Senateand Gov. Spencer Cox still support Trump and many of his policies, but have shown a willingness to express different positions on issues they disagree on.

Both Curtis and Cox defeated candidates who beat them at the state party convention earlier this year among far-right delegates. But in Tuesday’s primaries, when Utah’s more muted Republican electorate had their say, they cruised to easy victories.

Their victories make Curtis and Cox the clear favorites in the November general election in a heavily Republican state.

A crowd of Curtis supporters gathered in a Provo park erupted in cheers as the call for the race came. The congressman hugged his children and grandchildren, many of whom were covered head to toe in “John Curtis for U.S. Senate” stickers, between congratulatory phone calls from the United States. Sen. Mike Lee and other Utah officials.

“Tonight is a night to celebrate, but tomorrow we go back to work,” Curtis told the crowd. “Thank you for the best campaign in the history of the world.”

What you need to know about the 2024 elections

Curtis will face Democratic candidate Caroline Gleich in November in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.

Romney said Utah would be lucky to have Curtis in the Senate.

“John Curtis is a man of honor and integrity who cares deeply about our citizens and the future of our country. We need more leaders like him,” he wrote Tuesday evening on the social network X.

Curtis, 64, began his political career as a county-level Democratic Party official before running for mayor of Provo as a Republican. He has been compared to Romney for his resistance to his party’s hardliners, particularly on climate change.

Gordon Robinson and his wife Lynette Robinson celebrated just down the street from their home in Provo, where Curtis was once their neighbor. The couple said they respected his environmental policies and his support for military aid to Ukraine to repel a Russian invasion.

“What I like about him is he’s willing to work across the aisle and compromise with people,” Robinson said. “But he doesn’t shy away from the issues that matter most.”

Democratic candidate Gleich, a mountaineer and environmental activist, said Tuesday that Curtis, who leads the conservative climate caucus on Capitol Hill, is “not moderate.” She accused him of pandering to the needs of the fossil fuel industry instead of supporting policies she says are needed to protect public lands, air and water.

In Tuesday’s primary, Curtis defeated Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who was little known outside his Salt Lake City suburb before. Trump’s endorsement gave him a boost. But Trump’s support was not enough.

The former president’s brash style and comments about refugees and immigrants do not sit well with many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon Church, which represents about half of the state’s 3.4 million residents.

Even some voters who voted for Staggs, like Erica Goulding of Heber City, said they weren’t fans of Trump but supported his Senate pick because they didn’t think Curtis was conservative enough.

The Staggs campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday evening.

Cox, a moderate Republican who took office in 2021, won the primary after being elected booed earlier this year by GOP convention delegates. Cox defeated state Rep. Phil Lyman, a former county commissioner turned state legislator who espoused false claims of voter fraud after the 2020 presidential election.

After his victory, Cox said he was proud of Utah voters.

“Tonight, we restored our faith in the Republican Party and our faith in the people of Utah. They don’t respond to lies, made-up conspiracy theories,” he said.

Lyman told reporters at his election night party that he would not concede until the results were verified.

Cox will face Democratic candidate Brian King, state representative, in November. Utah hasn’t had a Democrat in the governor’s office since 1985.

King congratulated Cox on his primary victory, but said November voters “will hold him accountable for his record.” He said many people in Utah believe the state is going in the wrong direction and are struggling with rising housing and grocery costs.

“While Utah’s economy works for those at the top, everyone else is left behind – which has been typical during Governor Cox’s tenure over the past four years,” King said.

Also Tuesday, State Sen. Mike Kennedy defeated four other Republicans vying for the open 3rd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that Curtis is vacating to run for Senate.

In Utah’s 2nd District, it was too early to call an election in which Trump-backed U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy is seeking her first full term on Capitol Hill after winning a special election last fall. She faces challenger Colby Jenkins, a retired U.S. Army officer and telecommunications specialist, supported by Romney’s counterpart, Lee.

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