SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Republican mayor of the Mormon stronghold of Provo is expected to sail to victory in a special election Tuesday to replace former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz in a congressional district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 5-to-1.
Despite facing competition from the son of a longtime GOP senator, John Curtis has been considered the front runner in a race where he’s walked a fine line between supporting and distancing himself from President Donald Trump.
Trump’s brash personality and comments about women and minorities earned him only tepid support last year from Utah’s overwhelmingly Mormon and conservative voters.
Curtis’ opponents, Democrat Kathryn Allen and third-party candidate Jim Bennett, have tried to capitalize on that discontent by tying Curtis to the president.
Curtis, a 57-year-old social media-savvy politician, is considered more moderate than Chaffetz, a cable-news fixture known during his eight years in Congress for persistent investigations into Democrat Hillary Clinton in his role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Chaffetz, citing a desire to spend more time with family, abruptly resigned in June and became a paid contributor for Fox News.
Chaffetz’s departure initially attracted more than two dozen Republicans to the open, safe GOP seat that covers an area stretching from several Salt Lake City suburbs and ski towns southeast to Provo, coal country and the tourist-heavy red rock deserts.
Curtis became the Republican nominee after an August primary, though he faced suspicion by many in the party’s conservative wing for having once been a Democrat. He was the only candidate in a three-way GOP primary who didn’t vote for Trump, citing significant moral concerns.
But Curtis, who ran a shooting-range business before serving eight years as Provo mayor, has said he supports the president’s agenda and has repeated Trump refrains to “drain the swamp” and “build the wall.”
Allen, the Democratic nominee and a family physician, raised half a million dollars for her campaign earlier this year when she jumped in to challenge Chaffetz, seizing on his comments suggesting people should spend their money on health insurance instead of iPhones.
Her heavy fundraising stalled after Chaffetz left office.
Allen has positioned herself as more of a populist Democrat who is independent of the party establishment. She’s pledged not to take campaign donations from corporations or corporate political action committees, embraced Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for all” plan and says she’s “not a big fan of Nancy Pelosi,” the House Democratic leader.
Bennett, son of Republican former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, ran as the first candidate of a new political party he helped found, United Utah. He and the party sued the state to win a place on the ballot.
His father served 18 years in the Senate before he lost a re-election bid in 2010 and was replaced Republican Mike Lee. He became one of the first GOP incumbents booted from office by a rise in Tea Party-fueled anger.
Jim Bennett worked for his father’s campaigns but left the Republican Party when it picked Trump as its presidential candidate.
The winner of Tuesday’s election is expected to be sworn as soon as next week.
The results won’t be official until the end of the month, but the U.S. House clerk and Speaker Paul Ryan have indicated that if the unofficial results are definitive enough this week, they could swear in the new House member from Utah on Monday, according to state elections director Mark Thomas.
Written by MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press
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