SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes took an early lead with 54% of the vote to 45% for Utah County Attorney David Leavitt for the Republican nomination for attorney general, early returns showed Tuesday night.
“These are early results but we are very pleased with these numbers. We hope to increase our lead over the coming days,” Reyes said.
“It is an honor as attorney general to stand watch over and defend Utah. I look forward to continuing my momentum into a November reelection victory so I can continue to serve and protect all Utahns.”
Reyes said he was overwhelmed by the support he has received statewide through the state Republican Party to convention through the primary election.
“My family has been my inspiration, including my dad, who we lost during this campaign,” he said.
Leavitt said he was enthused by the momentum and support that his campaign built through Election Day.
“As we continue watching the results, we know our message of reforming Utah’s criminal justice system resonated with voters and that the discussion and awareness will develop as we strive to make the criminal justice system serve our state better. We look forward to the final result,” he said.
Utah County, Leavitt’s home county, had yet to post any results late Tuesday.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Greg Skordas, a Salt Lake criminal defense attorney who has also worked as a county prosecutor. Libertarian Rudy Bautista, a Salt Lake criminal defense lawyer, will also be on the November ballot.
The race between Reyes and Leavitt turned into a slugfest during a debate in early June when both candidates took off the gloves, and that continued through Election Day.
Leavitt, the brother of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, centered his campaign on criminal justice reform and ethics, hitting Reyes especially hard over what he says is a “for sale” sign on his office. Leavitt, who financed his campaign out of his own pocket and with donations from family, said Reyes is beholden to the Republican Attorneys General Association and others who have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign.
Reyes said there are no allegations that any decision he has made to investigate or not to investigate or prosecute a case was influenced by a campaign contribution. He said his donors know they don’t get special treatment.
Over the past four years, Reyes said he has stood watch over the state protecting Utahns from child sex predators, street drugs, fraud, school violence and suicide, as well as safeguarding their private information from online hackers and cybercriminals. He said he wants to build on the successes he has had.
Reyes has a long list of endorsements, including from President Donald Trump, state legislators, city and county officials and other leaders.
Leavitt initiated new plea bargain and screening policies in Utah County in an effort to push more cases to trial, which he said is the proper venue for deciding a person’s guilt or innocence. Plea bargains, he said, have become tools used to bypass courts, sometimes at the expense of justice.
As attorney general, he said he would implement similar reforms statewide.
Leavitt said he has accomplished his goal of shining a light on the need for changes in the justice system whether he wins or loses the primary.
Reyes said there are more issues in the race than criminal justice reform and “anybody that tells you that it is isn’t qualified to be the attorney general.”
He said he has supported the state’s Justice Reform Initiative and the federal First Step Act and brought reintegration programs to the state. He called Leavitt’s proposal to take every case to a jury trial a “charade” and “quixotic idea” that government can’t afford.
Leavitt accused Reyes of shirking his duty to oversee and lead county attorneys in the state. Leavitt said even though he’s been out pushing criminal justice reform, he has never met with Reyes since becoming Utah County attorney.
Reyes said he has received more complaints about Leavitt from leaders and residents than any other public official. The state, he said, doesn’t dictate how elected county attorneys do their jobs.
Reyes is seeking a second full term as attorney general after Gov. Gary Herbert appointed him to replace John Swallow, who resigned amid scandal in 2013. Reyes easily won a special election in 2014 to keep the job. He was reelected in 2016 to his first four-year term, when his Democratic opponent dropped out nearly two months before the November election.
Leavitt is in the second year of a four-year term as Utah County attorney. He served as Juab County Attorney for eight years before losing the 2002 election and going into a private practice.
Leavitt forced Reyes into a primary election at the state GOP convention. Polls showed Reyes with a slim margin over Leavitt, but much of the electorate was undecided as mail-in ballots went out earlier this month.