SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said it is always a little nerve rattling when the early voting results come in because Salt Lake County reports first, and that's a losing battle.
But late Tuesday, with more results reported for the 2nd Congressional District, Stewart began to pull away from Democratic challenger Shireen Ghorbani.
As her numbers fell, Ghorbani conceded.
"She was a great opponent," he said from the headquarters of a GOP victory celebration.
He added, too, he was grateful that "by and large," it was a positive campaign.
Ghorbani, speaking from a stage in front of Democratic supporters at the Radisson Hotel, conceded the race, but still drew repeated applause.
"We could not be prouder of what we've done," she said.
Unofficial results showed Stewart with 57 percent of the vote, to Ghorbani's 39 percent.
First elected in 2012, Stewart won his previous three races with at least 60 percent of the vote.
"If I'm not right, my voters will punish me, no doubt about it," Stewart said a week before the election. "We trust our constituents to (say) what they think."
Ghorbani and her campaign volunteers knocked on thousands of doors in the vast 2nd District, stretching from Salt Lake City's east side to southern Utah.
Watching her mother die of pancreatic cancer two years ago prompted her to get into politics for the first time. She campaigned on health care reform, raising the minimum wage and for LGBT rights.
Ghorbani, a University of Utah communications professional in the facilities management department, and Stewart didn't agree on much, giving voters a clear choice in the election.
During their only debate, Ghorbani identified President Donald Trump as the biggest threat to national security. Stewart, who has defended the president on a number of fronts, said China is the nation's greatest threat.
Stewart has carved out a role on national security in his six years in Congress.
The former Air Force pilot considers his work on the House Intelligence Committee — much of which he says he can't talk about — his most important. He also sees a path for becoming the committee chairman should Republicans hold the House.
Stewart called China a "generational" threat to the U.S. He said China has a methodical plan to be the single dominant influence in the world in 2048, the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party in China.1 comment on this story
"I think our children are going to have to deal with China in a meaningful way. I'm not predicting war … but our goals are at some point going to come into conflict and we're going to have to find some way to resolve that," he told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards a week before the election.
U.S. foreign policy will have to pivot around a "new cold war" with China, Stewart said.
In addition to his work on the intelligence committee, Stewart helped pass bills for a national suicide prevention hotline and legislation making it easier for states to exchange federal lands to bring in money for schools.