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John Curtis Easily Wins Special House Race In Utah's 3rd District

Julia Ritchey
John Curtis greets supporters after winning the 3rd District race on Nov. 7, 2017.

Provo Mayor John Curtis landed a decisive victory Tuesday night in the special House race to fill former Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s seat. 

The race was called by major media outlets a little after the first results poured in at 8 p.m., showing Curtis, a Republican, with a whopping lead over his Democratic opponent Kathie Allen.

In his victory speech, an ebullient Curtis outlined 10 pledges to voters as Utah’s newest congressional representative.

“Pledge no. 1: I pledge not become a politician,” he said to cheers. “I’ll make my service about solving big problems, not petty squabbles.”

Curtis also pledged to stay accessible to constituents and serve the under-represented, including the disadvantaged and those with different political viewpoints.

“It means if you’re not white, Mormon or male, I’m still here for you,” he said.

The outcome was largely expected in the 3rd Congressional District – which stretches from the southern tip of Salt Lake County down to San Juan in southeastern Utah. The district is considered one of the most conservative in the country.

That means Curtis will now head to Washington to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Chaffetz, who stepped down in June to join Fox News as a commentator.

This was the first special election for a vacant Congressional seat in recent Utah history – and set up battle between the governor and legislature over how it should be run.

From a field of more than a dozen Republican candidates, Curtis emerged after collecting signatures to get a place on the primary ballot.

The popular incumbent mayor of Utah’s third largest city escaped a heated Republican primary in which he was often criticized by opponents for being too moderate – and for his former affiliation as a Democrat more than decade ago.

After the August primary, Curtis continued to cement support among the state’s Republican establishment, including endorsements from Gov. Gary Herbert and Mitt Romney.

Curtis’ Democratic opponent, Kathie Allen, began her campaign while Chaffetz was still in office.

Allen, a physician from Cottonwood Heights, capitalized on Chaffetz’ controversial remarks at his viral town hall in February, and later when he suggested that people who were unable to afford health care should not buy iPhones.  

She out-raised and out-spent Curtis – and attracted a large Twitter following – but was never able to recapture momentum after Chaffetz stepped down.

Attempts by Curtis’ opponents to tie him to President Trump never stuck either. Curtis, a moderate, didn’t vote for Trump in last year’s election, but says he will support his agenda.  

A new third party, the United Utah Party, came third in Tuesday’s results. UUP candidate Jim Bennett – running to the center of Curtis and Allen – gained about 8 percent of the vote in early returns.  

Curtis is expected to be sworn in fairly quickly in order to get to Washington and start work on big Republican legislative items like tax reform.

House Speaker Paul Ryan even Tweeted Curtis congratulations on his win.

However, since Chaffetz’s term expires at the end of 2018, Curtis won’t have long before he will have to run again in next year’s midterm elections.

“As a representative for the 3rd District, I have stewardship over 708,809 people,” said Curtis. “I’m committed to waking up each morning and caring about every one of you.”

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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