Mike Lee backs challenger to incumbent Rep. Celeste Maloy ahead of convention

Colby Jenkins, left, was endorsed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, as a challenger to incumbent Rep. Celeste Maloy in the race for Utah's 2nd District seat.

Colby Jenkins, left, was endorsed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, as a challenger to incumbent Rep. Celeste Maloy in the race for Utah's 2nd District seat. (Colby Jenkins for Congress)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee on Thursday endorsed Colby Jenkins, a Republican challenger who is aiming to unseat Rep. Celeste Maloy after less than a year in Congress.

"Too many Republicans in Congress have voted to expand the size, scope and cost of the federal government, in many cases deferring to congressional GOP leaders bent on advancing the Democrats' agenda. Now more than ever we need bold conservatives in Congress," Lee stated. "We need Colby Jenkins. His commitment to the Constitution, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and individual liberty make him the best candidate to represent Utah's values in Washington."

Lee — who is popular with Republican delegates — encouraged delegates to vote for Jenkins over Maloy in the party's state nominating convention on Saturday, saying he "has my full support." Because Maloy opted not to gather signatures to ensure her place on the primary ballot, a loss on Saturday could mean the end of her reelection campaign.

"I am humbled and honored to receive the trust and endorsement of Senator Lee," Jenkins, a combat veteran, said. "His leadership and dedication to constitutionally conservative principles inspire me. I look forward to working with to fight the D.C. establishment, get our country back on track, and serve the people of Utah with integrity and diligence."

Jenkins, a St. George resident, has 25 years of military service, in part as a member of a Green Beret Special Forces team. He later served as a counter-terrorism policy adviser to the U.S. secretary of Defense and as a senior adviser in the Pentagon.

Jenkins works for a telecommunications company and is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

He is one of two Republican challengers running against Maloy, along with Ty Jensen.

In an interview with KSL, Maloy said she doesn't expect Lee's endorsement against her to sway delegates at convention, and pointed to some of the endorsements she has received — including from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the founder of the House Freedom Caucus, and Robert O'Brien, former President Donald Trump's national security adviser. She said she and Lee have always "gotten along fine" and declined to speculate about why he backed Jenkins.

"I honestly don't know if it will," she said, of the endorsement's impact on delegates. "Maybe a few people, but this is a race that's been going on for a while. It's been pretty intense. They've gotten a lot of information and there's also a Senate race and an (attorney general) race. Delegates are getting bombarded with information so it's hard to predict how this is going to impact their decisions."

Jensen told KSL he is not disappointed by Lee's support for Jenkins, saying: "As long as the GOP establishment in Celeste Maloy is defeated, it'll be a win for Utah and the United States."

Maloy was first elected to replace Rep. Chris Stewart last year, after the congressman announced his resignation. A former legal aide to Stewart and Cedar City resident, Maloy won a surprise victory in the GOP's special convention after she was buoyed by a coalition of delegates seeking a representative from southern Utah.

Saturday's convention will also feature closely-watched races to fill Sen. Mitt Romney's seat and the open race for the 3rd Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives.

Contributing: Lindsay Aerts

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


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