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Republican primary in the US House of Representatives in Utah falls into the recount zone and threatens the Trump-backed incumbent

By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM – Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Republican primary race for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District went into a recount Tuesday after competing endorsements from influential Republicans left voters with a dilemma, having little time to get to know the incumbent before casting their ballot.

The Associated Press said the race between U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy and her challenger Colby Jenkins was too close to predict a winner after nearly all of the district’s precincts 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 0.2 percentage point lead puts the race within the recount zone, which in Utah applies when the vote difference between each candidate is within 0.25 percent of the total number of votes cast.

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“I know we’re in an area where there could be a recount, but I don’t expect a recount to change the outcome,” said Maloy, who addressed reporters via Zoom from Washington, D.C. “I have confidence in the county officials and their teams and the way they’ve done their jobs.”

Maloy sought to use former President Donald Trump’s late endorsement to undermine the conservative reputation of her challenger, who had touted his loyalty to Trump throughout most of the campaign.

Jenkins, a retired U.S. Army officer and telecommunications specialist, defeated Maloy earlier this year at the state Republican convention, which typically favors the most right-wing candidates. He won the delegates’ endorsement after securing the support of right-leaning U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, but his margin was not enough to avoid the primary.

Jenkins trailed Maloy in the two weeks since Election Day and watched his opponent’s lead shrink until he was within touching distance of demanding a recount.

“In our southern Utah stronghold, many ballots have yet to be counted due to postmark issues,” Jenkins said in a text message to the AP. “After the final count in the state, we intend to request a recount to ensure that every last vote in the county has been counted.”

Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson, the state’s top election official, said the recount process could begin after the statewide count on July 22. Jenkins has a week to file a formal request and the recount must be done within a week of that request being filed, she said. All ballots will be recounted, any uncounted ballots will be re-examined and election officials from each county will tally their results.

Maloy’s victory in the primary would be Trump’s only victory this election cycle in Utah, one of the few Republican strongholds that has not yet fully embraced his hold on the GOP. A Jenkins victory would mean that all of Trump’s chosen candidates in Utah would lose their primaries this year.

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

The 2nd District covers liberal Salt Lake City and conservative St. George, and includes many rural western Utah towns that lie between the two cities. Democratic voters in and around the capital make it the least red of Utah’s four congressional districts, all of which are represented by Republicans. However, the winner of the Republican primary is still considered the favorite to defeat Democratic candidate and family law attorney Nathaniel Woodward in November. The district has not been represented by a Democrat since 2013.

The Utah Democratic Party nominated Woodward in late May to succeed its previous candidate, who withdrew from the race after party members criticized him for defending some participants in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Maloy, who lives north of Zion National Park in Cedar City, began her career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she worked to conserve natural resources, improve water quality and manage nutrients in the vast farmlands of southwestern Utah. As an attorney, she specialized in public lands issues related to soil, water and land tenure. During her brief tenure in Congress, she served on subcommittees dealing with water resources and rural development.

Jenkins repeatedly attacked Maloy during the campaign for voting for recent bipartisan spending bills. The congresswoman defended her voting behavior, pointing out that these agreements were negotiated by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, who she said was the “most conservative House Speaker we’ve had in my lifetime.”

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