US Rep. John Curtis wins Utah GOP primary for Romney’s open seat, while Gov. Spencer Cox also wins

PROVO, Utah (AP) — A pair of moderate Utah Republicans won primary elections Tuesday for U.S. Senate and governor over far-right candidates who are loyalists to former President Donald Trump, the latest example of how Utah is a rare Republican state that doesn’t fully embrace Trump’s stranglehold on the GOP.

U.S. Rep. John Curtis, who won the GOP primary for Mitt Romney’s open U.S. Senate seat, and Gov. Spencer Cox still support Trump and many of his policies but have shown a willingness to stake out different positions on issues where they disagree.

Curtis and Cox both defeated candidates who beat them at the state party convention earlier this year among delegates who lean far right. But in Tuesday’s primary, when Utah’s more muted GOP electorate had its say, they easily scored victories.

Their wins make Curtis and Cox heavy favorites in November’s general election in a state that leans heavily Republican.

A crowd of Curtis supporters gathered at a park in Provo erupted in cheers as the race call came in. The congressman hugged his children and grandchildren, many covered head to toe in “John Curtis for U.S. Senate” stickers, between congratulatory phone calls from U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and other Utah officials.

“Tonight is a night to celebrate, but tomorrow we go back to work,” Curtis told the crowd. “Thank you for the best campaign in the history of the world.”

Curtis will face off in November against Democratic nominee Caroline Gleich in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.

Romney said Utah will be fortunate to have Curtis in the Senate.

“John Curtis is a man of honor and integrity who cares deeply about our fellow citizens and the future of our country. We need more leaders like him,” he wrote Tuesday night on the social media platform X.

Curtis, 64, began his political career as a county level Democratic Party official before running for Provo mayor as a Republican. He has been compared to Romney for pushing back against hard-liners in his party, particularly on climate change.

Gordon Robinson and his wife Lynette Robinson celebrated just down the street from their house in Provo, where Curtis was once their neighbor. The couple said they respect his environmental policies and his support for providing military aid to Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.

“What I like about him is he’s willing to work on the other side and compromise with people,” Gordon Robinson said. “But he doesn’t waver on the issues that matter most.”

The Democratic nominee Gleich, a mountaineer and environmental activist, said Tuesday that Curtis, who leads the Conservative Climate Caucus on Capitol Hill, is “no moderate." She accused him of pandering to the fossil fuel industry instead of supporting policies she says are needed to protect public lands, air and water.

In Tuesday's primary, Curtis defeated Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who was little known outside his Salt Lake City suburb before Trump’s endorsement gave him a boost. But Trump’s support was not enough.

The former president’s brash style and comments about refugees and immigrants do not sit well with many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known widely as the Mormon church, who make up about half of the state’s 3.4 million residents.

Even some voters who cast their ballots for Staggs, such as Erica Goulding of Heber City, said they were not fans of Trump but supported his Senate pick because they didn't think Curtis was conservative enough.

The Staggs campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday night.

Cox, a moderate Republican who took office in 2021, prevailed in the primary after he was booed earlier this year by GOP convention delegates. Cox defeated state Rep. Phil Lyman, a former county commissioner turned state legislator who espoused false claims of election fraud following the 2020 presidential election.

After his win, Cox said he was proud of Utah voters.

“Tonight we restored our faith in the Republican Party and our faith in the people of Utah. They don’t respond to the lies, to the made up conspiracy theories,” he said.

Lyman told reporters at his election night event he would not concede until results were verified.

Cox will face Democratic nominee Brian King, a state representative, in November. Utah hasn’t had a Democrat in the governor’s office since 1985.

King congratulated Cox on his primary victory, but said voters in November will “hold him accountable for his record.” He said many in Utah think the state is headed in the wrong direction and they are struggling with the rising cost of housing and groceries.

“While Utah’s economy is working for those at the top, everyone else is being left behind — which has been typical during Governor Cox’s tenure over the past four years,” King said.

Also Tuesday, state Sen. Mike Kennedy defeated four other Republicans battling for the open 3rd District U.S. House seat that Curtis is vacating to run for Senate.

In Utah’s 2nd District, it was too early to call a race in which Trump-backed U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy is seeking her first full term on Capitol Hill after winning a special election last fall. She is facing challenger Colby Jenkins, a retired U.S. Army officer and telecommunications specialist, who is endorsed by Romney's counterpart, Lee.