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Conservative moderate John Curtis wins the Utah GOP primary


Utah Congressman John Curtis is headed to the general election for U.S. Senate after winning the primary. He's gearing up to replace Senator Mitt Romney, who opted not to run for reelection. Utah is a safe red state, but the decision to advance Curtis shows where on the political spectrum Utah Republican voters are. Saige Miller with member Station KUER in Salt Lake City has more.

SAIGE MILLER, BYLINE: Curtis won the primary election in a landslide victory. And he beat three other people, including a Donald Trump-endorsed candidate, Trent Staggs. Curtis is viewed as a moderate conservative, much like Mitt Romney, although, at his campaign party, Curtis refuted that he was following in the Senator's footsteps.


JOHN CURTIS: If you expect me to be Mitt Romney, I'm going to disappoint you. If you expect me to be Mike Lee, I'm going to disappoint you. I'm John Curtis, and I think it's just fair to say I'm really different than both of them.

MILLER: Romney has faced resentment from hard-line Republicans in the state for being a fierce critic of Donald Trump. But the election seems to indicate that Utah GOP voters prefer the Curtis brand of conservatism over MAGA. That's according to Weber State University political science professor Leah Murray.

LEAH MURRAY: These are Republicans that are kind of classic Republicans - conservatives long before Donald Trump was ever in politics. The Republican Party is moving in a Mitt Romney direction.

MILLER: Murray says she predicts Trump's sway in the state will remain stagnant because most Utah voters aren't a fan of extremism. So if a candidate wants to win...

MURRAY: Maybe being the most radical version of yourself is not the right answer.

MILLER: They prefer coalition-building, which is what Curtis claims to do. Even though he voted with Trump more than 90% of the time, he says he isn't a blind supporter of the former president.


CURTIS: This narrative that you're either all-in or all-out on Donald Trump is a false narrative. And the way I chose to do it when I worked with him is, look, if it's in Utah's best interest, I'm there. And if it's not, I'm going to push back.

MILLER: While the race has been called by the Associated Press, Trent Staggs has yet to concede. Still, the majority of Trump loyalists lost their elections in Utah.

For NPR News, I'm Saige Miller in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Saige Miller