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SALT LAKE CITY — Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow beat Sean Reyes Tuesday to become the GOP nominee for attorney general in what was one of the state's nastiest primary races.
With just under 97 percent of precincts reporting, Swallow had 68 percent of the vote and Reyes, 32 percent.
Super PACs targeted both candidates with negative ads and mailers. Reyes filed a defamation lawsuit against Swallow and a Nevada-based super PAC called It's Now or Never. Swallow called it a desperate move by a desperate candidate.
Endorsed by outgoing Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Swallow said if elected he "won't be an attorney general who marches in place" and would restructure the office "to the extent it needs to be restructured."
Swallow called the negative campaigning "frustrating" and said he "really couldn't answer the question" when asked if members of his campaign staff were involved in the ads attacking Reyes.
Despite the friction between the campaigns, Reyes endorsed Swallow when the votes were counted.
I think those really did hijack the attention of voters. It's a sad commentary. I was hopeful people would reject that.
"Tonight, I just want to focus on John's victory," Reyes said, even though he and Swallow "still have our differences on how the election was won." Reyes said he believed he lost because of the "malicious" attack ads.
"I think those really did hijack the attention of voters," he said. "It's a sad commentary. I was hopeful people would reject that."
Swallow championed himself as a conservative who will fight the federal government over public lands and health care. As a state legislator, he voted for school choice and English-only and against in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
Reyes, too, considered himself a conservative and said those principles would guide his decisions. But he said the function of the attorney general's office is largely nonpartisan in defending families and people's rights and liberties.
Pollster Dan Jones said Swallow benefited from higher name recognition, thanks to his past unsuccessful bids for Congress. "A lot of people just didn't know who Reyes was," Jones said.
Jones also said the barrage of negative ads also had an impact. "I don't like negative ads, but they worked," he said, noting Reyes' legal retaliation didn't appear to win him any votes.
Swallow now faces Democratic Weber County Attorney Dee Smith and Midvale civil rights attorney Andrew McCullough, a Libertarian.
While the attorney general's race has been heated, there was also a hard-fought race for the GOP nomination for state auditor. Longtime state Auditor Auston Johnson faced his first-ever primary challenge from Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork.
With nearly 97 percent of the vote in, Dougall appeared headed to victory with a more than 3,000 vote lead over the incumbent. He will face Democrat Mark Sage and Constitution Party candidate Richard Proctor on the November ballot.
Dougall was waiting until the results were final before declaring victory: “I'm a numbers guy. I'll wait until the count is in. That's just what I do. I'm humbled that I believe people listened to my message. We're looking for better oversight coming out of the auditor's office. “
A lot of people just didn't know who Reyes was.
Johnson was in Washington, D.C., to participate in a federal government conference and was not available for comment.
The race pitted Johnson's 36 years of experience in the auditor's office, including 17 as state auditor, against Dougall's call for the office to more aggressively monitor the job performance of state agencies.
Johnson campaigned on his credentials as a certified public accountant, which he called key to producing the office's audits of local and state government spending. Dougall, who holds degrees in engineering and business, told voters the office needed leadership, not another CPA.
And it wasn't just Republicans going to the polls to pick their party's nominees Tuesday.
1st Congressional District
In the 1st Congressional District, political newcomers Donna McAleer and Ryan Combe squared off in a rare Democratic primary.
McAleer will take on five-term incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, in November. She said what put her over the top was "having a proven record of results and a history of leadership and service. People have to run on substance, right? It's not all about style."
Her campaign pitched her experience in the military as well as in business and with non-profit agencies. McAleer, raised in the East and the South, moved to Summit County to try out for the 2002 Olympic women's bobsled team and decided to stay.
Combe, founder of the parent company of the Spoon Me frozen yogurt chain and now a fundraiser for Weber State University, tried to sell voters on his connection to the community as a sixth-generation resident of Weber County.
Contributing:Lisa Riley Roche