Four candidates go head-to-head in the GOP Senate Primary Debate

Jun 11, 2024, 7:00 AM | Updated: 7:25 am

U.S. Senate candidates John Curtis, Brad Wilson, Jason Walton and Trent Staggs debated one another ...

U.S. Senate candidate sJohn Curtis, Brad Wilson, Jason Walton and Trent Staggs debated one another Monday night. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a crowded field Monday night; John Curtis, Brad Wilson, Trent Staggs, and Jason Walton went up against each other in the GOP Senate Primary Debate. Each one had their moment in the debate, sharing thoughts ranging from Donald Trump, representation, immigration, and more.

KSL at Night hosts Leah Murray and Adam Gardiner were live in the KSL NewsRadio studio right after the debate wrapped up. They broke down the first debate in the race for Senator Mitt Romney’s seat. 

Listen to the full debate breakdown segment here. 👇


A portion of the transcript, edited for brevity, is below.

First impressions

LEAH MURRAY: What did you think? 

ADAM GARDINER: First of all, it was fairly cordial. If something was thrown at Representative Curtis or Brad Wilson, nobody really like argued back. They got to respond and everybody was really polite. And then that was kind of the end of it. And we were, as we were watching this together, we were thinking like, oh, this has kind of been like a very cordial, kind of fine debate. There was some policy and then a lot of style. 

Debate topic: Former President Trump

MURRAY: Didn’t you feel like Trump was on the stage? 

GARDINER: Or at least he was up like in the balcony over, hovering over. 

MURRAY: Let’s listen to Brad Wilson and what he said about [Trump].

BRAD WILSON: I think it’s important to understand why it’s important we elect [Trump] this year. The middle-class tax cuts. The tax cuts that he put in place a few years ago, are set to expire and Joe Biden has gone on record saying he wants those to expire.

The middle class in the state of Utah cannot afford to let that happen. We need to close the border, we need to make sure we get spending under control in Washington D.C. and we need to send a Republican from Utah who can set an example and can go back and work with the President to teach and to do the things that we’ve done here in Utah to all of Washington. 

Related: Maloy and Jenkins face-off in debate for 2nd Congressional District seat

MURRAY: It feels like Trump, and your support for Trump is like a litmus test in a lot of the debates, right?

Here’s what [Jason Walton] said about Trump.

JASON WALTON: I think it’s just sad for all of America to see how Donald Trump has been the most attacked and maligned, persecuted president or presidential candidate in the history of the United States of America.  I think it’s a bipartisan issue, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, that the federal government is being weaponized by a current sitting U.S. president. I mean, look what they’re doing to him. I mean, immediately, they tried to use the 25th Amendment against him. They’ve tried to as soon as he took office.

They’re literally tying him up in court so that he can’t campaign, and so I think that there’s a lot of things that need to be investigated. I think a lot of the three-letter agencies that make me want to say the four-letter words. We need to look into them. We can’t have a system in the United States government. It’s a sad day when the current sitting president weaponizes the government against his political opponents.

Debate topic: Representation

MURRAY: Let’s listen to the former Speaker of the House [Brad Wilson] talking about how he does representation. 

WILSON: You know it’s very similar to what I did as Speaker of the House in Utah. You know, people think oftentimes that having a super majority of Republicans makes the job easy, but in fact, whether it was ushering the largest tax cuts we’ve talked about, or strengthening Second Amendment rights, or even funding lawsuits against the Biden administration, you have to bring people along and you have to understand where they’re coming from and where they’re working from, and I don’t think there’s anyone more well suited on this stage to go back to Washington right now and listen to and work with people of very, very different opinions and try to bring consensus and a common goal and objective. 

CURTIS: The Utah’s Third Congressional district that I’ve represented for the last seven years has some interesting contrast. If you go down to San Juan County, you’ll find one of the most conservative counties in the United States. Right next door is Grand County, and you’ll find a very liberal, (for lack of a better term) county right next door. I like to tease my friends in Grand County. Sometimes they hate that they like me because I do listen to them. I may have very different opinions than they do.

I might vote differently than they would expect me to. But, they have great respect for me and I have for them. If I were to list one of my superpowers back in Washington D.C., it’s my ability to work with people who have very diverse opinions from me and respect them and get things done without compromising my values or their values. This is what is among the most important things in Washington D.C.people who disagree philosophically finding a path forward without compromising their values, and it’s what I’m very good at. 

STAGGS: Too often in political discourse we get talking aboutthis group of people, that group of people.” How are you going to represent all people? The America First agenda that I have committed to champion with President Trump and with a new Senate majority is, I think, something that helps all people. It doesn’t matter, I mean, in an America First agenda, whether that’s going ahead and stopping this crazy printing of money which has caused the inflation and theBiden-omics” that is crushing Utah families, and it’s an extra $10,000 to $12,000 a year that’s now costing Utahns. 

WALTON: We have an open border where drug cartels are literally business partners with Joe Biden. There’s record amounts of fentanyl and meth that are pouring into our nation. Fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans between ages of 18 and 45, and the career politicians won’t do anything about it. Look, that’s why I got into this race. I was frustrated, just like you. As I’ve been talking to the people of Utah, I’ve sensed your frustration. Sometimes getting a path forward is code for spending. Sometimes building a coalition is code for spending. That’s how we go from $34 trillion to $40 trillion and $45 trillion. We need to elect business people who there’s no political strings attached to them, like me, who will go and stop the spending. 

Debate topic: Immigration

WALTON: Joe Biden is business partners with the Mexican drug cartels. Plain and simple. What Joe Biden is getting is over three million illegal immigrants who are coming into the America each year, who he and the Democrats presume are going to vote Democrat, and what the cartels are getting is more than a 20-fold increase in human trafficking revenue and a 20-fold increase in the fentanyl and meth and heroin drug trafficking revenue. They should just be remaining in Mexico instead of right now, where they welcome them in, give them a phone, a plane ticket, some money and then a plane ticket near you right here in Utah. It’s not right. 

WILSON: When Joe Biden became president, with over 90 executive orders, he opened up the border. We’ve had [10 million plus] illegal immigrants flood into this country, creating a humanitarian crisis and a security crisis that we are all aware of. It’s very simple: the border needs to be closed. We do need to reinstate the Remain in Mexico” policy. 

I do think we need to finish building the wall. You know, a few years ago, John Curtis said that building the wall was pent up racism. I don’t believe that’s the case. I think building the wall is like having a good fence with a good neighborit makes you good neighbors. These are all things that are important in terms of our ability to manage our border, instead of turning it over to the drug cartels and foreign nationals and other countries that are trying to destroy the United States of America.

CURTIS: Listen, nothing in the United States Senate or Congress is going to happen until we secure the border. That’s very clear. And it’s also very clear. Joe Biden could do this tomorrow if he wanted. All he’d need to do is reinstateRemain in Mexico.” If you look at what Republicans produced in the House, that’s a recipe for everything our whole wish list, which I supported, and we’ve got to figure out a way to get that into law. 

Now you asked for some specifics and I’d like to give some specifics that nobody else has even tried to touch on. How would we fix this? I have a bill. It’s called a state-sponsored visa bill. It would actually give visas to governors around the United States that were separate from the federal visas that they managed themselves. They would be responsible for monitoring people that came into the state and how these visas were used. It’s a good bill. It’s bipartisan and has a real chance of progress. The other bill that I have removes country caps. If you get down into the weeds, you’ll see that India has more people that could want to come to this country than Sweden. By removing those caps, we could make that happen. 

STAGGS: This is a huge issue. Here we have President Biden, who has created this problem. He undid so much of what was successfully implemented by President Trump. I think it’s actually by design. We’ve had 10 to 12 million people invade this country during the Biden administration and I remind folks, it’s three times the population of our state. It’s massive. When you put it into that context, the solution is simple: build the border wall, remain in Mexico, cutting off any benefits to illegal immigrants. When you do that, they will largely self-deport, I believe, and the problem will start to correct itself. But this is a massive problem that has several, several consequences across many communities, including my own. 

We want to hear from you.

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Four candidates go head-to-head in the GOP Senate Primary Debate