SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart on Wednesday announced plans to resign his Utah seat due to his wife’s illness, triggering a special election to replace him in a reliably Republican district.
“I can say with pride that I have been an effective leader for my beloved home state, and I’m honored to have played an important role in guiding our nation through some troubled times,” Stewart said in a statement.
The six-term Utah Republican did not offer details about his wife’s illness or indicate when he planned to vacate his seat but said in the statement that he planned to retire “after an orderly transition can be ensured.”
Under Utah law, Gov. Spencer Cox has seven days to lay out a schedule to replace Stewart with a special election.
Though Stewart’s departure will mean one less Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, it is not expected to affect House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ability to steer a tight Republican majority. The district is reliably Republican and Stewart defeated a Democratic challenger by more than 30 percentage points in 2022.
Stewart, a U.S. Air Force veteran and author, was first elected in 2012 and collaborated with Utah’s Elizabeth Smart on a memoir about her kidnapping. The 62-year-old Stewart was raised as a potential nominee for U.S. director of national intelligence during former President Donald Trump’s administration.
As recently as last year, Utah Republicans speculated about Stewart’s plans to run for another office. Last year, in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Stewart demurred when asked about his political plans, specifically whether he would challenge U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney or Cox, both moderates.
Though some Republicans have already come forward and announced plans to challenge Romney, Stewart’s resignation creates a rare federal opening for Utah Republicans, upending the calculus facing those mulling challenges to Romney or Cox.
Stewart’s resignation marks the second time a Utah congressman has left office early in the past six years. Former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz resigned from office in 2017, stepping away from his role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee and prompting a special election.
The amount of time that Stewart’s seat could be empty depends largely on Utah’s laws governing special elections. Gov. Spencer Cox has seven days to lay out an election schedule to replace Stewart. Candidates need to have at least 90 days to campaign under state law.
Both special primary and general contests are expected to coincide with Utah’s municipal elections in November and presidential primary next March, unless the Legislature acts.
Utah GOP Party Chair Rob Axson said he had already heard of “quite a few” potential Republican candidates who may aim to succeed Stewart, who he said regularly travelled the district from St. George in southern Utah to Salt Lake City.
“Utah Republicans are going to have a number of people to look at,” he said. “I’m confident that Utahns will continue to pick a Republican to represent them.”