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Rep. Chris Stewart’s ex-staffer Celeste Maloy wins Utah special election primary to replace him

With strong backing from Utah’s rural voters, a former staffer for Utah Rep. Chris Stewart won a three-way Republican primary in a special election to succeed him after he resigns from office.
FILE - Celeste Maloy speaks during the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary debate for outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart's seat, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Farmington, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

With strong backing from Utah’s rural voters, a former staffer for Utah Rep. Chris Stewart won a three-way Republican primary in a special election to succeed him after he resigns from office.

Celeste Maloy, a Donald Trump supporter, defeated former state Rep. Becky Edwards in what was a tight race. Businessperson Bruce Hough finished a distant third.

Maloy will be the favorite when she faces Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the special general election Nov. 21 in the reliably Republican district. The winner will become the only woman in Utah’s congressional delegation and just the fifth in the state’s history.

After Edwards took the lead in early counting in urban areas Tuesday, Maloy pulled ahead on strength from voters in rural areas — a lead that only grew Wednesday.

“It’s exciting that we’re going to have somebody come out of this primary that represents rural and southern Utah. I think it’s time for that, and everybody’s ready for it,” said Maloy, who lives in Cedar City, after The Associated Press called the race in her favor Wednesday.

She promised to “build bridges” with Republicans heading into the general election and said she’s eyeing assignments to the House natural resources and armed services committees.

Edwards conceded the race, thanking her supporters for their dedication and efforts and touting a campaign that “engaged, inspired and ignited passion.” She didn’t mention Maloy.

Maloy was chief legal counsel for Stewart, who after 10 years in Congress is resigning Sept. 15 because his wife is ill. The district covers northern Salt Lake City and much of western and southern Utah.

Maloy, who grew up in southern Nevada, has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Southern Utah University and once worked as a U.S. Department of Agriculture soil conservationist. She credited her campaign’s focus on rural areas.

“I did debates in the rural counties. I showed up and held events in the rural counties,” Maloy said. “We decided early on that our strategy was going to be to win the rural counties, and then get as much as we could in the more urban counties.”

Her message against “government overreach” resonated with rural voters, she said.

She had the endorsement of Stewart and former Utah U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop. Republicans nominated Maloy at their convention in June despite questions about her eligibility because she hadn’t voted in recent elections while living in Virginia.

The three-way primary was a rare gauge this year of how Republican voters are responding to former President Donald Trump’s indictments for allegedly working to overturn the 2020 election and for allegedly mishandling classified information after he left office.

While all three GOP candidates campaigned on traditional small government, pro-business platforms, Edwards stood out after running on an anti-Trump platform in a Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2022. Maloy and Hough criticized the indictment as politically driven.

Hough, a committee member for the Republican National Committee for over a decade, trailed by a wide margin in the vote. He is the father of “Dancing With The Stars” veterans Julianne and Derek Hough.

Stewart, a six-term Republican and Air Force veteran, set off a scramble to fill his seat when he announced in May that he would resign. He plans to step down Sept. 15.

Mead Gruver, The Associated Press