How Trump's Endorsement Could SWING Utah's Senate Race...

By Jennifer Wentworth | Tuesday, 30 April 2024 01:00 AM
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Image Credit : Photo by John Doe for OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting)

In a significant development within the Utah Republican Party, Trent Staggs has been chosen as the nominee to succeed Mitt Romney in the U.S. Senate.

This decision was made on Saturday, shortly after Staggs, a local official, received an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

Staggs' endorsement saw him secure over two-thirds of the delegate votes at the convention. However, this support does not necessarily guarantee success in the upcoming elections. Staggs, who serves as the mayor of Riverton, located just south of Salt Lake City, will have to contend with other prominent candidates in the June 25 GOP primary. These include U.S. Rep. John Curtis and former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson.

It is worth noting that the nominations of the Republican Party have historically had minimal influence on the decisions of Utah voters. Both Curtis, who is considered more moderate, and Wilson, a Trump supporter, have already qualified for the primary by gathering signatures. The victor of the primary will then proceed to the November general election, where they will face off against Democrat Caroline Gleich, a mountaineer and environmental activist who secured her party’s nomination earlier on Saturday.

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Staggs, aged 49, has built his base through personal outreach to delegates and by securing the endorsements of Trump and many of his allies nationwide. The former president, in a post on his Truth Social platform on Saturday morning, described Staggs as a "100% MAGA" candidate who understands how to curb inflation, stimulate economic growth, and secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Staggs was the first candidate to enter the Senate race, even before Romney announced his decision not to seek reelection. "Let’s replace Joe Biden’s favorite Republican with Donald Trump’s favorite Republican in Utah," Staggs stated on Saturday, criticizing Romney for his moderate stance and frequent challenges to Trump and other Republican leaders.

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However, Staggs' strategy of aligning with the controversial, far-right former president does not guarantee victory in Utah, a state that has been hesitant to embrace Trump despite its Republican leanings.

Eric Buckley, a Staggs supporter, expressed confidence that Trump's endorsement would resonate with Utah voters. The Davis County delegate revealed that he had chosen to back Staggs even before Trump’s endorsement, primarily because Staggs was the first to challenge Romney. "It was his stance on the corruption in D.C. that exists and his promise to stand up against the moderate Republicans and the Democrats pushing through their agenda without any type of resistance," Buckley explained.

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Curtis, 63, is expected to appeal to a broader range of primary voters. He has been likened to Romney for his resistance to hardliners in his party, particularly on issues such as climate change.

Jonathan Miller, a Davis County delegate who sported a "Team Mitt" baseball cap, expressed his support for Curtis, citing his proven willingness to collaborate with the opposition to achieve results in Congress.

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Despite not receiving Trump's endorsement, Wilson, 55, has supported the former president's reelection bid and has pledged to be a "conservative fighter" on Capitol Hill. His elaborate expo booth at the convention featured a tractor plowing through a pile of cinder blocks labeled the "Biden Agenda."

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The convention saw nearly 4,000 delegates overwhelmingly support "convention-only" candidates like Staggs and state Rep. Phil Lyman, who was chosen as the party's gubernatorial nominee over incumbent Gov. Spencer Cox, for their decision not to collect signatures. This practice is viewed by many as a way to bypass the convention.

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"That’s a cheap way out," said Cache County delegate Tim Lindsay. "I respect a candidate who respects the convention process."

The party's selections were among the most right-leaning candidates in their contests. Moderates like Cox and Curtis were booed by delegates as they took the stage.

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Cox laughed off the jeers, noting that many great leaders before him were booed at past conventions but emerged victorious at the polls. Cox, who has qualified for the primary with signatures, defended his initiative to reduce political polarization. "Maybe you hate that I don’t hate enough," he remarked.

Political observers believe that Cox remains the likely favorite in the primary. His challenger, Lyman, is a former county commissioner turned legislator best known for organizing an illegal ATV ride in protest of a federal land decision.

The 2014 protest ride was organized in response to federal officials closing a southeast Utah canyon to motorized vehicles to protect Native American cliff dwellings, artifacts, and burials. Lyman argued that the closure constituted overreach by the federal government.

In 2015, a judge sentenced him to 10 days in jail and three years of probation after a jury found him guilty of misdemeanor illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy. He reminded delegates of his short sentence just before the vote and pledged to continue fighting federal overreach if elected.

The state party's two major factions — the farther-right Trump supporters and the moderates who are losing their most prominent figure with Romney's departure — are set to continue their rivalry at the polls this summer. The primary will serve as a test of Trump's popularity in the Beehive State as he attempts to return to the White House amid ongoing legal proceedings, including a hush money trial.

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