Celeste Maloy is the projected winner in the 2nd Congressional District GOP primary in the race to replace Rep. Chris Stewart.
After the Associated Press called the race for Maloy Wednesday evening, she told the Deseret News she felt like “a million bucks.”
“I also feel really, really humbled. This is not an honor that I take lightly. I feel a great responsibility now to represent this district well. A lot of people have taken a big risk on me,” she said. “I was an outside dark horse candidate, and I started this off with zero dollars and no campaign apparatus whatsoever, and I’ve had so many people just believe in me and work hard for me and fundraise with me and go out and canvas for me, and I am going to work hard to prove them all right.”
Becky Edwards conceded the race Wednesday evening as Maloy led with 2,431 votes over Edwards, with most outstanding votes — nearly 13,000 — coming from Washington County, and a few thousand votes uncounted in Salt Lake County.
“While there remain ballots to be counted, we have come up short in this race,” Edwards said in a statement posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “As our campaign comes to a close, we want to extend our deepest gratitude to each and every one of you.”
A spokesperson for the Edwards campaign said Edwards called Maloy and “thanked her for a great race.”
Maloy’s other opponent, Bruce Hough, also conceded on Wednesday, thanking his wife and children for supporting him, and saying his run was a “wonderful experience.”
“I congratulate Celeste on her projected victory. I enjoyed our time together on the campaign trail as we debated in 11 of the counties in the district,” he said in a statement. “She will provide the citizens of the 2nd district with excellent representation. I support her 100% as she moves forward to the general election.”
Maloy was ahead 38% to Edwards’ 35%, as of Wednesday afternoon, with Hough, a former party committeeman and entrepreneur, at 27%.
Maloy said her priority over the next few months is to “unite Republican voters so that we are going strong into the general.”
“It’s been a tough primary, and I want to make sure that all of the Republicans who backed someone else in this race know that I’m ready to welcome them with open arms. I want to represent them well and I want everybody to be pulling together going into the general,” she said.
Maloy will face Democratic candidate Kathleen Riebe and other contenders in the Nov. 21 general election.
Maloy burst onto the Utah political scene after receiving Stewart’s endorsement and winning the state GOP’s nominating convention in a surprise upset against former State House Speaker Greg Hughes. During her campaign, Maloy spoke about her humble upbringing — she was raised in a single-wide mobile home in small-town Nevada — and her years spent as a soil conservationist and county attorney in southern Utah.
“I said in my closing at the Davis County debate that I think the fact that I’m here right now is proof that the American Dream is alive and well, and I just want to reiterate that,” Maloy said.
Stewart, who encouraged Maloy to run, said he was “proud” of Maloy’s “hard fought victory.”
“The reason I supported her was because of her integrity, humility, and intelligence. She will be a wonderful representative for Utah,” Stewart told the Deseret News.
Tuesday’s Republican primary election to replace Stewart left Utahns with a clear view of the state’s urban-rural political divide.
During her run, Maloy, a former Stewart staffer and the GOP convention nominee, emphasized issues affecting rural and southern Utahns during her campaign, while Edwards, a former state lawmaker and U.S. Senate candidate, focused on Salt Lake and Davis counties.
Edwards came out ahead in the two more urban counties, while Maloy won every other county.
Maloy spent Wednesday in rural Millard County, getting a close-up look at the recently reconstructed DMAD dam that is a holding pool for farmers along the Sevier River, and checking out a feeding operation at the Nye dairy farm.
As she sat in the backseat of a pickup truck traversing gravel roads, she said she’d rather be out in the country waiting for election results than behind a computer in an office.
People on the tour kept congratulating her, while Malloy pointedly told them she was not taking anything for granted.
She smiled and joked it was the most fun and relaxing time she’d had in months, even as her cell phone blew up with texts and she fielded phone calls from well-wishers.
“It’s been great,” she said about her day. “I am never anxious when I am working, I am only anxious when I have nothing to do. Being out in Millard County, on a farm tour, it feels very natural and feels very good.”
There were still thousands of outstanding ballots that needed to be counted as of Wednesday evening, most of them in Washington County. The location of the outstanding ballots was good news for Maloy, who led in Washington County with 44% of the vote Tuesday night, next to Edwards’ 22% and Hough’s 34%.
The Washington County clerk/auditor released a statement Wednesday afternoon, announcing a surprising number of outstanding ballots.
“As of today, Washington County has 12,752 outstanding ballots. 12,717 ballots that were dropped in a ballot drop box or by mail on Election Day and 35 provisional ballots. We are currently following our processes and will update the results as soon as we can,” the statement said.
The Washington County statement said it will update its election results Thursday, as will Salt Lake County, which currently has approximately 2,600 outstanding ballots for the 2nd District primary, according to Salt Lake County Clerk Lannie Chapman.
Voters in the 2nd District had until Election Day for their mail-in ballots to be postmarked and counted, which fell the day after Labor Day, which means valid ballots could still arrive as late as Friday, said Chapman.
The disparity between the number of outstanding votes in the 2nd District’s two population hubs forecasted the direction of the election, according to Adam Dynes, an associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
“Becky Edwards, who is more moderate, has stronger support in more suburban/urban places where there are also the most voters, so Davis and Salt Lake County,” Dynes said. “If Washington County and the more rural ones have processed more of their ballots, this would bode well for Edwards. On the other hand, if the rural counties still have lots of ballots to process as well, then we might continue to see a very close race that won’t be called until the vast majority of ballots are counted.”
According to former Utah GOP chair and political consultant Derek Brown, the outstanding votes in Washington County represented an insurmountable obstacle for Edwards.
“I would have thought that Edwards would be doing better in her home counties. But ultimately it shows that Maloy’s focus, her gamble of sorts, looks like it paid off,” Brown said. “We’ve always had members of Congress who live along the Wasatch Front. And to have this many votes outside of the Wasatch Front not only go for one candidate, but arguably make the difference, that signals a shift in power in Utah from a voting standpoint.”
The office of Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who oversees elections, will hold an official certification of election results on Sept. 22. Candidates may call for a recount if the margin between two candidates is 0.25% of the total votes cast in the race.
Contributing: Amy Joi O’Donoghue