Becky Edwards, a Republican, could score a victory in the Utah special election on Tuesday.
A Utah Republican who says she voted for President Joe Biden and doesn’t follow the party line on abortion is competing to represent Utah’s second congressional district in a little-noticed special election set for Tuesday — opening the possibility of a wild card member of the House of Representatives GOP caucus.
The race could put former U.S. Senate candidate Becky Edwards on a slippery slope to become the only Republican in the House of Representatives to say they didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2020. Edwards would be an extreme outlier in the Republican Party-controlled House of Representatives, where Republicans are heavily aligned with the former president.
Edwards topped one poll in early August of the three-person GOP primary field, conducted by Mormon Church-affiliated Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, and released Monday, creating some national buzz around her campaign. It is the only public survey of the race to date and showed that nearly half of respondents were unsure whether they would support Edwards, RNC commissioner Bruce Hough or lawyer Celeste Maloy. The winner advances to the general election against Democratic Senator Kathleen Riebe.
Edwards wants to replace Republican Chris Stewart, who will step down from office this month halfway through his sixth term due to his wife’s health problems. His resignation announcement in May triggered a special election for a seat in the United States House of Representatives stretching from the southwestern corner of Utah north to Salt Lake City.
Since GOP gerrymandering eliminated Utah’s only competitive seat in the 2022 House of Representatives, and the fight to replace Stewart’s safe Republican seat, had largely gone under the radar.
But Utah’s Second District could end up electing one of the most interesting new members of the House of Representatives: a Republican who expressed concern about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and who openly pleaded with Republicans to insisted on voting for anyone other than Trump — though neither is a problem. Edwards puts voters at the center of a district that encompasses a broad swath of ultra-conservative rural Utah.
During her 2022 primary against hardline conservative Senator Mike Lee, Edwards said she saw it “no compelling reason why we should revisit Roe v. Wade.” So was Edwards secretly recorded expressing concern about a trigger law banning nearly all abortions. Edwards told the editors of the Salt Lake City Tribune that she believes in the “sanctity of life.”
The paper too reported that Edwards encouraged Republicans to impeach Trump in 2020, saying that unlike her opponent Lee, she felt Trump deserved to be impeached for his role in instigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. She told later Bloomberg that voters in Utah just want to “move ahead” of Trump.
Her detractors and political observers warned against reading too much into the single poll, which showed Edwards ahead of the rest of the field by 20 points, due to her name recognition and the poor timing of the survey. A representative for Hough, the RNC member, called it a “garbage poll” with outdated results, while Maloy, a former lawyer in Stewart’s congressional office who won the support of Republican Party delegates in Utah said her own support is “real and growing.”
A whopping 47% of respondents were indecisive, a sign that many had not paid attention to the race. The survey ended on August 14, the day before voters received their ballots. Utah is one of the few states that mails every active voter a ballot.
Hough, whose own campaign says he leads an internal poll, has attacked his opponent’s voting results. writing on social media that he is the “only candidate in this race who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.” Maloy’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment about her voting record and race in general.
I think there may be a misunderstanding about the type of Republican Becky is [Edwards] is.Chelsea Robarge Fife, Edwards’ director of campaign communications
Edwards’ campaign debunked the implication that she’s not really a conservative because she doesn’t support Trump, citing her decade in the Utah House where she led the economic development committee and helped balance the state budget during the last recession.
“I think there might be a misunderstanding about the type of Republican Becky is,” Chelsea Robarge Fife, campaign communications director, told HuffPost. “Because she worked at the Utah House for ten years, she has a file that shows where she is and how she votes, and that’s very conservative.”
Her campaign mentions a host of priorities – none of which are MAGA coded. They include approaching immigration “as a challenging issue that deserves sensitivity and nuance” and recognizing that climate change “presents both opportunities and challenges for our state.”
Robarge Fife said the voters they hear from are most concerned about the economy and inflation. “People are really worried about the cost of everything. That’s something we hear everywhere,” she said.
Matthew Burbank, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, said Edwards likely beat her opponents in the poll because of her career as a lawmaker and name recognition from her Senate campaign, in which she received 30% of the vote against Lee. Maloy probably had more traction with Utah’s GOP delegates because of her connection to Stewart, who supported her as his successor.
“Becky Edwards is clearly a better-known politician, even if she was not well liked by the delegates because they did not see her as conservative enough,” he said.
Still, Utah isn’t necessarily a MAGA state, Burbank said. He called Republicans in Utah — who chose both Lee, a Trump antagonist turned ally, and Romney, the only Senate Republican not to vote for Trump — “conservative, in the older sense of what that meant.” He also noted the influence of former CIA operative Evan McMullin, a protest candidate who ran an independent presidential campaign in 2016 and another for the U.S. Senate in 2022 to siphon votes from Trump and Lee, respectively.
“Trump didn’t do well in the 2016 primary … and he didn’t do particularly well in the general election,” Burbank said. “Trump did better in 2020, but he also didn’t carry the state with the kind of numbers we’d expect from a sitting Republican.”