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Challengers Lining Up Against Jason Chaffetz in Utah's 3rd District

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Damian Kidd, right, is an attorney from American Fork planning a primary challenge to Rep. Chaffetz in 2018. Kathryn Allen, a doctor from Cottonwood Heights, plans to challenge Chaffetz in the general as a Democrat.

It’s only been four months since Jason Chaffetz handily won a fifth term representing Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, but already the Republican has two challengers preparing to run against him in 2018.

Attorney Damian Kidd of American Fork was the first to put his name in the ring as a potential primary challenger against Chaffetz in January, making it official a month later.

A Republican who’s never held office before, Kidd says his motivation to run resulted from frustration with Chaffetz’s partisan approach.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a more divisive and inflammatory Republican on Capitol Hill,” he says of Chaffetz.

While it may seem early, Kidd says the reality is, the Republican primary is only a year away.

“This will be decided either at the Republican state convention or the Republican primary the spring of 2018," he says. "So we are not two years out, we are maybe a year out.”

He’s not alone either. A Democratic challenger, Kathryn Allen, a physician from Cottonwood Heights, has so far raked in more than $450,000 from small donors, mostly from out of state, to run a longshot campaign in the heavily Republican district.

On her crowdfunding site, Allen says Chaffetz has been “deaf to his constituent’s concerns,” dismissing some at his town hall in February as paid protesters.

But in an interview late last month with NPR’s Morning Edition, Chaffetz dismissed such criticism as a coming from a small minority, pointing to his large margin of victory.

“Look I just won an election with nearly 74 percent of the vote,” he said. “I won by the biggest margin in Utah, at this level, for the last four elections in a row.”

Jessica Preece, an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University, says the sooner candidates like Kidd and Allen can raise money, the more competitive they can be later in the campaign.

“Early money [is] very helpful,” she says. “If you can raise a lot of money early on, strategically that’s fantastic because that deters other challengers from coming out against you.”

Chaffetz, she says, has not been a particularly prolific fundraiser compared to others in the House, but says name recognition may be the bigger obstacle for anyone looking to mount a challenge against an incumbent.

“Starting early can help with the name recognition game,” she says. “I don’t actually see it as very problematic that [Kidd] has declared early; I think it can do nothing but help him.”

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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