Mayor of Provo, Utah Wins GOP Nomination for Chaffetz's Old Seat

Provo Mayor John Curtis speaks at the Provo Convention Center / Getty
August 16, 2017

John Curtis, the mayor of Provo, Utah, on Tuesday secured the Republican nomination to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.), who retired from Congress in late June.

Curtis beat out two GOP rivals who portrayed themselves as more conservative candidates in Utah's heavily red third congressional district, the Washington Post reported. He is now well positioned for the general election on Nov. 7, when he will face a Democrat and several third-party candidates.

Former state lawmaker Chris Herrod, one of Curtis' primary opponents, was endorsed by Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and argued he was the most conservative candidate in the race. A Washington group that advocates for lower taxes and spending, Club for Growth, even spent about $300,000 supporting Herrod's campaign, including advertisements attacking Curtis.

The other GOP candidate was lawyer Tanner Ainge. Both Ainge and Herrod polled around 30 percent with about 77 percent of votes counted, while Curtis was ahead with a 41 percent plurality in early returns.

Brigham Young University professor Quin Monson advised Curtis during the primary campaign and said that his win was "entirely attributable to his strong performance as mayor of Provo."

"He had solved some major problems in the Provo area and had the city pretty united around what he was trying to do," Monson told the Post. "He has stayed pretty positive. He's run on his record as mayor."

Many negative ads attacked Curtis during the primary, seeking to portray him as insufficiently committed to lowering taxes and cutting government spending. The ads also highlighted his run for the state legislature in 2000 as a Democrat. Curtis switched back to the GOP in 2007, though his current mayoral office is nonpartisan.

Polls showed that Curtis had an early lead in the race that attack ads were unable to overcome.

Monson said that the negative ads targeting Curtis actually backfired because of Utah's reputation of relatively genteel campaigning.

"Negative campaigns are effective, but I do think that tone and factual context also matters," Monson said. "I do think the negative ads overplayed the hand that they were dealt."

The race in this usually subdued political environment generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending and heated attacks. It largely flew under the radar, however, in part because President Donald Trump was not publicly involved like he has been in other recent House elections.

Democrats are not seriously focusing on this red district, making the Republican candidates' stances on Trump less of a factor, the Post noted.

The special election in Utah will determine who fills Chaffetz's former seat. He retired from Congress on June 30, giving up his chairmanship post on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He is now a Fox News Channel commentator.

Republicans enjoy a 25-point advantage in Utah's third congressional district, according to the Cook Political Report. The district is among the top 20 most-GOP-leaning seats in the country.