The author and former U.S. Air Force pilot sidestepped a primary fight and clinched the nomination after besting a crowded field of candidates in a nasty fight with allegations and countercharges flying at the state Republican convention April 21. The controversy led to an investigation by state GOP Chairman Thomas Wright amid conspiratorial accusations and questions about the process.
Wright said that investigation is "ongoing" and it involves a theory by at least one of the candidates Howard Wallack that Eureka Mayor Milt Hanks was a plant and was used to drop a bombshell during the convention speech. Hanks accused Cherilyn Eagar, David Clark, Chuck Williams and Wallack of orchestrating an "Anybody but Chris" effort that used anonymous slurs against Stewart.
Wright said he expects to have the investigation completed by the end of the week, but the fallout has left some Republicans looking to discover who Stewart's Democratic opponent is.
It's Jay Seegmiller, a former state lawmaker, who won his nomination on the first ballot at the state Democratic convention. But he starts as an underdog, already having been bested in the fundraising race by Stewart $176,884 to $6,041, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.
But that substantial gap could close a bit as Seegmiller said his campaign has received a recent spate of contributions, calls and queries about his candidacy from troubled Republicans.
"Some of them are so mad they would support just about anybody other than Chris Stewart," Seegmiller said. "But most that have called have asked 'What are your positions on this and that?' And after we talk a little bit, they say 'you sound like you're moderate enough that I'd be comfortable enough supporting you.'"
This is not unfamiliar territory for Seegmiller.
In 2008, Seegmiller was the first candidate in decades to unseat a sitting House speaker. He defeated then-Speaker Greg Curtis by more than 10 points in that election, following persistent controversies and complaints about the Republican leader abusing the power of his office.
Seegmiller's campaign manager, Guy Warner, cautioned against viewing this year's election as a repeat.
"By the time we get to November, that [convention controversy] will likely be played out," Warner said. "We have to go forward on [grounds] that he's a strong candidate."
There are also some Republicans who aren't convinced anything underhanded occurred.
Jeff Carter said unless an investigation uncovered some "significant evidence" pointing to wrongdoing, the impression he was left with didn't reflect well on the other candidates.
"Why would he [Hanks] put his reputation as mayor and potential candidate" on the line? "Why would he risk it all for that?" Carter asked. "And how the four that were accused reacted they acted like kids who had their hands caught in the cookie jar. And then they banded together which is what they were accused of in the first place."
Stewart and his campaign did not immediately return calls or emails seeking comment.
Dan Pope, the former television weatherman and first-time delegate, said he would likely fall in line and vote Republican unless Wallack's theory was true. In that case, he said he'd look more seriously at Seegmiller or possibly not vote in the 2nd District race at all.
Either way, he said he remained distressed by what happened.
"It was a tornado that hit without any warning," Pope said. "Doppler radar didn't see it coming and it was gone in six minutes, doing damage to about 35 percent of the property."