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Four Republicans are vying for Senator Mitt Romney’s open seat change in a fiery debate

While all are vying to replace him, retiring Sen. Mitt Romney was not mentioned once Monday during an hour-long debate between four Utah Republicans competing against each other in the Utah primary.

The farewell of Romney – the only Republican senator to vote twice to impeach Trump – poses a test for Republican Utahns: will they choose a candidate who leaves room for moderates, or are they more interested in someone who is fully aligned? with former President Donald Trump?

Voters will answer that question on June 25. Among a field of four Republicans who appeared Monday in the debate hosted by the Utah Debate Commission at the PBS Utah studios in Salt Lake City, the biggest disagreements emerged when candidates were asked questions about Trump and whether they would do so. accept the results of the 2024 election “across the board.”

The question of whether they would accept this year’s election was posed as a yes or no question by the debate’s moderator, Glen Mills – former ABC4 anchor and chief political correspondent who currently works as director of communications and government relations for the Utah Department or Corrections – but all four candidates qualified their answers.

Their answers:

Businessman Jason Walton: “That’s a loaded question, but yes, of course, I’m going to accept it, and I look forward to serving with President Trump.”

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Brad Wilson: “No, not if we see that there is proven fraud and we know that there is fraud, I will not accept the results. But I have confidence in our elections in the state of Utah, we have great election officials.” Rep. John Curtis: “I have to remind people that elections are a state issue, not a federal issue. Constitutional responsibility is to accept the results that the states send you, and yes, I will accept (them).” Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said: “It’s really something we need to look at. I mean, we saw so much evidence of fraud in the last election. We saw Big Tech come together and censor free speech regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop.”

In states across the US, there is no evidence whatsoever to support Trump’s continued claims of widespread voter fraud affecting the 2020 election.

Staggs echoed Republican claims that Twitter worked with government officials and the news media to suppress a news article about the laptop’s contents. Last year, three former Twitter executives testified that they wrongly believed the article contained hacked material and reversed their decision to restrict its distribution within 24 hours, Reuters reported.

The debate included many other Republican talking points, including closing the country’s southern border, and fighting back against runaway federal spending and Washington, DC-style politics wrapped in massive omnibus bills.

The differences between the candidates largely came to light when it came to Trump.

Curtis, who is leaving his position representing Utah’s 3rd Congressional District to run for the U.S. Senate, tried to portray himself as a pragmatic and experienced congressman who listens to moderates but also knows how to deal with Trump if he is re-elected.

However, Staggs has made it clear that he is completely behind Trump, describing himself as a disruptor who will “stand up to the establishment.” After Trump endorsed Staggs, he won the Utah Republican Party nomination with nearly 70% of the vote, to Curtis’s 30%, after several rounds of voting that eliminated other candidates. However, Curtis, Wilson and Walton collected enough signatures to qualify for the primaries.

Wilson also tried to portray himself during Monday’s debate as a Trump supporter — but also as someone who will fight to bring the “Utah Way” to Washington, D.C., arguing that his time as leader of the Republican supermajority of the Utah House showed that he can bring together moderate and hard-line conservatives. .

Walton, who owns 35 companies in 19 states (including three in Utah), according to his campaign website, also likened himself to Trump as a businessman to challenge “career politicians” in DC, cut federal spending and “get things done.” .

Curtis, who is considered the front-runner in the race (a recent Deseret News poll shows him with a significant lead, although a third of likely Republican voters in Utah are still undecided), made the most attacks — largely because a lot of money flowed into it. his campaign of political action committees and special interests.

Curtis fought back, arguing that he has no control over who donates to his campaign.

Staggs’ last-minute attack on Curtis

The debate remained civil throughout the hour – although the most heated exchange occurred in the final minute of the debate, when Staggs took one final shot at Curtis during his closing statement.

“You know, on March 4, 2020, Abbott Laboratories received a federal grant. On the same day, John Curtis bought shares in that company. This is the problem in Congress. At a time when someone should be looking out for their constituents, they are ultimately looking out for their own gain,” Staggs said, pledging to ban “individual stock trading for members of Congress and their families.”

Staggs was the last candidate to make a closing argument just before the broadcast was set to end, but Curtis urged the moderator to let him intervene.

“You have to let me respond to that,” Curtis said. “That’s such a low shot. You wait until I have no response (time). You’re throwing something out that I can’t respond to. You accused me of a crime tonight. You better have really good evidence, and I want to challenge you to provide that evidence that I somehow committed a crime. And if that’s how you operate in the Senate, the people of Utah would be very disappointed.”

At that point the broadcast ended. After the debate, Curtis and Staggs did not shake hands, and Curtis was heard saying “cheap shot” as he walked past Staggs.

After the debate, pressed by reporters about his accusation against Curtis, Staggs said: “I have not accused him of a crime.”

“Here’s the problem, that Congress is allowed to trade stocks that way,” Staggs said. When Staggs was asked if he was accusing Curtis of insider trading, he again said, “I wasn’t accusing him of a crime.”

“What I said is that on the same day the company got a grant, he was trading shares on the same day,” Staggs said. “So I think that’s a problem. I think it’s problematic that members of Congress are allowed to do this, and you see time and again that many people make literally millions of dollars every year trading stocks.”

Once again, Staggs wondered whether he was accusing Curtis of insider trading or not: “What I said is what I said. On the same day a company received a subsidy, he traded shares. And to me that is bigger than just this one member of Congress.”

Curtis did not dispute that he had purchased the shares. According to a 2020 filing, he reported a transaction from Abbott Laboratories between $1,001 and $15,000. In response to questions from reporters, Curtis acknowledged that the issue could highlight the need for reform in how members of Congress handle financial portfolios.

“I think I’ve seen the problems firsthand. I was a businessman who came to Congress with resources and assets, and I never really thought about what that means,” Curtis said. “Most candidates don’t see that when they run for office. “I’ve tried for a long time to insulate myself from criticism… and none of those things have worked.”

So Curtis said he has tried to divest himself to avoid conflict.

However, Curtis also said that reforming members of Congress’ financial constraints is easier said than done.

“I think it’s difficult to define exactly where that line is,” he said, adding that the issue could range from stocks to exchange-traded funds and even interest rates. “This is why Congress hasn’t actually successfully passed a bill, even though it’s been brought up a number of times.”

Monday was the first of several days of debates over Utah’s high-profile primaries. Earlier Monday, Republican candidates faced off in debates for the state’s 1st and 2nd districts and the congressional district.

On Tuesday night, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and his Republican challenger Phil Lyman will debate at 6 p.m., and on Wednesday night, five GOP candidates will compete in the battle for Utah’s third congressional district.

Visit the Utah Debate Commission website for a full schedule of debates.

Utah News Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Utah News Dispatch maintains editorial independence. If you have any questions, please contact editor McKenzie Romero: [email protected]. Follow Utah News Dispatch on Facebook and Tweet.