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Politics & Government

Third time’s a charm between Rep. John Curtis, Chris Herrod in a GOP-sponsored debate

Rep. John Curtis, Chris Herrod, GOP 3rd Congressional District Debate, May 27, 2022
Leah Hogsten
The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah's 3rd Congressional District incumbent Rep. John Curtis debates challenger Chris Herrod, Friday, May 27, 2022 at the Spencer W. Kimball Tower on the campus of Brigham Young University ahead of the June 28 primary election. Utah Republican Party Chair Carson Jorgensen, left, moderated the event.

Two-term Rep. John Curtis and challenger Chris Herrod made their case to Republican voters during a debate at Brigham Young University Friday night. This is the third time the two have faced off in a primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.

“Somehow our fate keeps bringing us back,” Curtis quipped to Herrod.

Both qualified for the primary at the GOP nominating convention in April, but Herrod earned more support from delegates than the incumbent congressman did.

State GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen moderated the party-sponsored debate, after encouraging candidates for the congressional primary elections not to participate in the Utah Debate Commission’s events.

The party said they wanted more control over the commission’s debates because only Republicans are on the ballot for the U.S. Senate and House.

The candidates took questions on issues like government spending, immigration and abortion. In the wake of the Texas elementary school shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead, Jorgensen asked how the candidates proposed protecting “our children and schools while maintaining the Second Amendment.”

Both stressed their support for the right to bear arms. Curtis said he didn’t believe there was a quick fix to the nation’s mass shootings, whether it comes to mental health support or gun safety.

“I think we have to admit that we've had a breakdown in families, we've had a breakdown in churches, we've had a breakdown in communities that have allowed these types of things to take place,” Curtis said. “So I stand ready with my colleagues to ask questions about how this happened and what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen again.”

Meanwhile, Herrod suggested more of the federal pandemic relief money should have been spent on school security but contended that kids should know “there is no safer place still than being at school.”

Throughout the debate, Herrod emphasized his ongoing loyalty to former President Donald Trump. Curtis has typically been considered the more moderate of the two candidates.

In his closing statement, Herrod wanted to make the choice easy for voters.

“There are two different wings in the Republican Party,” he said. “If you're more aligned with Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox, then I'm probably not your guy. But if you think that the time to be on the fence or in the middle is over, then I am. I do believe that we're in a critical juncture in America, that we have very little time to fix things, and if we do not fix them quickly, our country will disintegrate.”

The GOP is sponsoring debates for the 2nd Congressional District and the Senate next week.

Holly Richardson, a former state representative and a longtime Republican who lives in the 3rd Congressional District, said the fact that the party insisted on hosting its own debates shows that its leadership is growing more extreme.

“I think it's pulling from the former President Trump playbook,” Richardson said. “Where if you don't do things the way we want you to do things, we're just going to take our ball and go home.”

Even though only registered Republicans can participate in the party primary, Richardson said it was a lost opportunity to reach a broader group of constituents.

“As every elected official should tell you, they represent everybody in their district,” she said. “They don't just represent the small segment of voters that happens to agree with them.”

So far, Rep. Blake Moore is the only incumbent who has confirmed his participation in the commission’s debates.

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