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What to expect in Utah’s state primaries on Tuesday

By LEAH ASKARINAM - Associated Press | Jun 21, 2024

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, Pool

U.S. Rep. John Curtis, left, reacts to a statement made from Trent Staggs, right, during the Utah Senate primary debate for Republican contenders battling to win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

WASHINGTON -- Anti-Trump Republicans lost their standard-bearer in the Senate when Sen. Mitt Romney announced he wouldn't seek a second term. On Tuesday, Utah voters will decide whether a similar brand of politics can still succeed in Republican primaries.

Even before Romney announced he wouldn't run again, former state House Speaker Brad Wilson had already formed an exploratory committee and Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs joined the primary. Both highlighted their support for former President Donald Trump. U.S. Rep. John Curtis has also entered the race and is widely seen as the candidate best positioned to win the crowded primary.

Primary voters in Utah will also choose candidates for governor, the U.S. House and state Legislature.

Curtis leads in most of the public polling for the Senate race, but Staggs has the backing of Trump and the state Republican Party, after winning the most votes at the state convention. Wilson has a financial advantage, having loaned his campaign $3 million. Jason Walton, who's pitching himself as a businessman in the style of Trump, is also running.

Curtis has reiterated that he would vote for the Republican former president, but his primary opponents have criticized him for a lukewarm embrace of Trump. But while vying for Trump's support is key in red districts and states, Utah is different. The most conservative candidates, while embraced by the state party, are often snubbed by voters.

Winning a Utah nominating convention means that a candidate's name will appear on the primary ballot, but candidates can also submit signatures to appear on the ballot. While the nominating convention traditionally rewards the most loyal members of the party, it doesn't have a strong record of selecting the eventual nominee. In 2018, Romney lost the state convention to state Sen. Mike Kennedy. In the primary, however, Romney defeated Kennedy by more than 40 percentage points.

Gov. Spencer Cox, who is running for another term, was booed at this year's nominating convention. The state party endorsed Phil Lyman, who has supported Trump's false claims of election fraud in his 2020 presidential election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. However, while Cox may have been considered too moderate for the state delegates, he is still favored to win the primary on Tuesday.

An exception to that rule was Rep. Celeste Maloy, who won the primary for a special election last year after placing first at the nominating convention. That victory, which was an upset, turned the little-known congressional staffer into the front-runner for the nomination. In November, she was sworn into the House.

However, in her race for a full term this year, Maloy lost the nominating convention to Colby Jenkins, who has the backing of Sen. Mike Lee. Still, Maloy has a major fundraising advantage and an endorsement from Trump.

Trump has not endorsed a candidate in Curtis' open seat in the 3rd Congressional District. Kennedy, who lost to Romney in 2018, won the state party's endorsement at the April convention. He faces state Auditor John Dougall, Roosevelt Mayor JR Bird, trampoline park empire owner Case Lawrence, and attorney Stewart Peay, who is backed by his wife's uncle, Romney.

Here's a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY DAY

The primary will be held on Tuesday. Polls close at 8 p.m.

WHAT'S ON THE BALLOT

Among the elections taking place are primaries for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state attorney general, state auditor, state Senate, state House and state Board of Education.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

In Utah, political parties choose what kind of primary to hold. For Tuesday's state primaries, the Democratic primary is open to all voters, while the Republican primary is open only to registered Republican voters.

DECISION NOTES

The 3rd Congressional District covers the eastern part of the state, stretching from Park City's winter resorts, south to Provo and southeast to Moab. Kennedy represents a district in the state Senate that's based in Alpine, between Salt Lake City and Provo. Bird is running as the candidate who represents rural voters. He is mayor of Roosevelt, a town in Duchesne County in northeast Utah. Wilson's former state legislative district was in Davis County, northwest of Salt Lake City.

There is no automatic recount provision in Utah, though the state will pay for a candidate-requested recount if the margin between the top two candidates is 0.25 percentage points or less.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

As of June 13, there were 1,969,880 registered voters in Utah. Of those, 14% were Democrats and 50% were Republicans.

In the 2022 U.S. Senate race, turnout was 22% of about 1.9 million registered voters in the Republican primary. In the 3rd Congressional District, turnout was 29% of roughly 113,000 voters in the 2022 Republican primary.

Utah conducts its elections largely through mail ballots.

As of June 20, a total of 180,599 voters had cast ballots before Election Day, about 12% in the Democratic primary and 87% in the Republican primary.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE-COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the 2022 Republican Senate primary election, the AP first reported results at 8:03 p.m., or three minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 11:46 p.m. with about 83% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 133 days until the November general election.

Associated Press writer Hannah Schoenbaum in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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