Republican primary in Utah US House race drops into recount zone, threatening Trump-backed incumbent

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Republican primary race to represent Utah’s 2nd District in Congress narrowed into recount territory on Tuesday after dueling endorsements from influential Republicans created a conundrum for voters who had little time to get to know the incumbent before casting ballots.

The Associated Press declared the race between U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy and challenger Colby Jenkins too close to call after nearly all counties in the district certified results on Tuesday.

Maloy, who is seeking her first full term in Congress after winning a special election last fall, had a lead of about 220 votes over Jenkins. That margin of 0.2 percentage points put the race within the recount zone, which in Utah is when the difference in votes for each candidate is equal to or less than 0.25% of the total number of votes cast.

“I know we’re in potential recount territory, but I don’t anticipate that a recount will change the outcome,” said Maloy, who addressed reporters on Zoom from Washington, D.C. “I have confidence in the county clerks and their teams and the way they’ve done their jobs.”

Maloy has tried to leverage a late endorsement from former President Donald Trump to undercut the conservative credentials of her challenger, who spent much of the campaign touting his loyalty to Trump.

Jenkins, a retired U.S. Army officer and telecommunications specialist, defeated Maloy earlier this year at the state GOP convention, which typically favors the farthest-right candidates. He got the nod from delegates after earning the support of Utah’s right-wing U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, but he did not win by a wide enough margin to bypass the primary.

Jenkins had been trailing Maloy in the two weeks since Election Day, watching his opponent's lead gradually shrink until it was within bounds to request a recount.

“There are many ballots in our southern Utah stronghold that have still yet to be counted due to postmarking issues," Jenkins told the AP in a text message. "After the final state canvass, we intend to request a recount to ensure that every last vote in the district has been counted.”

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, the state’s chief election officer, said the recount process may begin after the statewide canvass on July 22. Jenkins will have a week to file a formal request, and the recount must be conducted within a week of that submission, she said. All ballots will be recounted, all uncounted ballots will be reexamined and election officials from each county will tabulate their results.

Maloy's primary victory would notch Trump his only win of this election cycle in Utah, a rare Republican stronghold that has not fully embraced his grip on the GOP. A Jenkins win would mean all of Trump's picks in Utah lost their primaries this year.

A Trump-backed U.S. Senate candidate lost to the more moderate U.S. Rep. John Curtis in the race for Sen. Mitt Romney’s open seat. Many others who aligned themselves with the former president, in Utah and beyond, have lost recent primaries, dealing a blow to Trump’s reputation as a Republican kingmaker.

The 2nd District groups liberal Salt Lake City with conservative St. George and includes many rural western Utah towns tucked between the two cities. Democratic voters in and around the capital city make it the least red of Utah’s four congressional districts, which are all represented by Republicans. But the Republican primary winner is still favored to win in November over Democratic nominee and family law attorney Nathaniel Woodward. The district has not been represented by a Democrat since 2013.

The Utah Democratic Party chose Woodward in late May to replace its previous nominee who withdrew from the race after party members criticized him for defending some participants in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Maloy, who lives just north of Zion National Park in Cedar City, began her career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working to conserve natural resources, improve water quality and manage nutrients in the vast farmlands of southwest Utah. As an attorney, she specialized in public land issues involving soil and water and land ownership. In her brief congressional tenure, she has served on subcommittees focusing on water resources and rural development.

Jenkins repeatedly attacked Maloy on the campaign trail for voting in favor of recent bipartisan spending bills. The congresswoman defended her voting record, noting that those deals were negotiated by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, who she said is the “most conservative speaker of the House we’ve had in my lifetime.”