John Curtis, the Republican mayor of Provo, Utah, has been declared the winner of a special election to represent Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, filling a seat vacated by former House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who retired midway through his term and is now a contributor for Fox News.
CNN and NBC declared Curtis the winner. He defeated Democratic candidate Kathie Allen as well as Jim Bennett, candidate for the newly formed United Utah Party.
Bennett, the son of former Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and a Republican himself until Donald Trump secured the party’s presidential nomination last year, had hoped to capitalize on the state’s lukewarm relationship with Trump. The United Utah Party, which Brigham Young University political science professor Richard Davis founded this year, espouses a mostly center-right platform, most notably opposing the president’s hard-line immigration policies.
Despite the GOP’s strength in the Beehive State ― only Wyoming’s electorate has a higher percentage of registered Republicans ― Utahans have been reluctant to embrace Trump’s presidency. Trump won the 3rd Congressional District with just 47 percent in 2016. By comparison, Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, won the state with 79 percent of its votes in 2012.
Trump’s poor showing was partly due to the presence of a third-party candidate, Evan McMullin, a center-right former CIA operative, who leveraged the state’s dissatisfaction with Trump to win over 21 percent of the vote ― just 5 percent less than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Romney, who has been critical of the president, is reportedly mulling a run for Senate if the state’s current senior senator, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), retires.
Bennett’s weak showing, however, likely stemmed from his inability to paint Curtis as someone who is in lockstep with the president. While Curtis said during the campaign that he supported considerable portions of Trump’s agenda, he didn’t vote for the president last November and had strong support from the district’s business community from his time as mayor.
“A lot of people are wanting me to be Trump-like, and I’m not going to be. I’m just not,” Curtis said during a debate last week.
Bennett was also hamstrung by his protracted battle to get on the ballot, which kept him from building up a campaign operation and raising money. It wasn’t until early August that a judge ordered election officials to place him on the ballot. At that point, Bennett’s campaign only had $2,500 cash on hand.