John Curtis pulls out to huge lead in 3rd District congressional race

FILE – In this Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, file photo, Provo Mayor John Curtis speaks during town hall meeting, in Lehi, Utah. Utah voters are set to choose a replacement for U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz during a special election Tuesday made necessary after the Republican’s surprise resignation earlier this year. Curtis, the Republican mayor of the Mormon stronghold of Provo, is expected to sail to victory in a congressional district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 5-to-1. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

With the first batch of votes counted after the polls closed Tuesday night, Provo Mayor John Curtis, the Republican contender, has taken a commanding lead in the race to fill Utah’s vacant congressional seat.

He holds a roughly 34 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor, Democrat Kathie Allen, in the earliest count with Curtis collecting nearly 60 percent. The new United Utah Party’s Jim Bennett came in third at 9 percent.

Even in Salt Lake County, where Democrats are expected to do their best, Curtis slightly edged out Allen. And he’s so far picked up more than five times the votes in Utah County, which includes about 60 percent of the registered Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District.

DISTRICT 3 SPECIAL ELECTION RESULTSJoe Buchman, Libertarian • 2.20% popular vote • 2064 votesJason Christensen, Independent American • 1.49% popular vote • 1394 votesJim Bennett, United Utah • 9.05% popular vote • 8,482 votesJohn Curtis, Republican • 59.06% popular vote • 55,330 votesSean Whalen, unaffiliated • 2.59% popular vote • 2,424 votesKathie Allen, Democratic • 25.60% popular vote • 23,986 votes

The winner will serve the final year of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s term after the congressman surprisingly stepped down on June 30 and has since joined Fox News as a contributor. His early departure turned what would have been a municipal election only into a complicated congressional special election — the first in Utah in 90 years.

The race has been largely consumed by discussion of President Donald Trump, who has overwhelmed all political topics for the past year including dominating every debate for the open 3rd District seat.

Although he wrote in a “good friend’s name” instead of voting for Trump last year, Curtis wants the president to be successful and intends to work with the administration when he agrees with it. The mayor has maintained that he supports the Trump agenda on economics, taxes and defense while he ignores the president’s “distractions.”

Now well-positioned to be the Utah’s newest congressman, Curtis ran a shooting range business in Provo before serving two terms as mayor of the state’s third largest city and one of the most conservative in the nation.

After winning a gritty three-way Republican primary in August where he was criticized for not being conservative enough (and for once being a Democrat some 20 years ago), Curtis faced pushback during the general election for using the president’s slogans, such as “drain the swamp,” in campaign advertising and removing a post on Facebook exhorting Congress to “build the wall” between the United States and Mexico.

Mary Swenson, of Cottonwood Heights, did not vote for Trump last year but cast her ballot for Curtis on Tuesday calling him the “more middle of the road” choice.

Both Allen and Bennett have built their campaigns on standing against Trump, distancing themselves from most of his policies and rhetoric. “The best way to defeat the Trump agenda,” read, in part, a mailer sent out by Allen, “is to vote for a commonsense Democrat.”

Allen, a longtime physician and first-time candidate, has run an astonishingly well-funded campaign, raking in more than $800,000 in the strongly GOP-tilted district. She jumped into the race after Chaffetz’s rowdy town hall in February.

Sue Villani, a Cottonwood Heights resident the same as Allen, voted for the doctor while suggesting “this is a god-awful place for progressives.” Ahren Exeter also cast her ballot for Allen, saying Trump played a big part in the decision.

Bennett, son of the late three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, was a Republican but left when Trump was nominated in the 2016 presidential race. He’s billed himself as an “honest broker” between the two major parties.

The 3rd Congressional District, where registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats nearly six to one, stretches from central Salt Lake County to the southernmost border of San Juan County. Utah County makes up the biggest share of its population. Just two of the seven counties it encompasses, Emery and Carbon, have opted for traditional polling instead of mail-in ballots.

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