Results Update: In something of a surprise, Herrod has bested Henderson on the last ballot. The August 15 primary will now be between Herrod, Ainge, and Curtis. The Democrats, as expected, nominated physician Kathryn Allen.
(This post is a collaboration between me and Jon Henrik Gilhuus – thanks to him for writing much of this preview!)
Republicans are holding their special convention today for UT-3, a very Republican (but Trump-unfriendly) seat around Provo which will be vacated in two weeks by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R). UT-3 covers the southeast quarter of the state, but substantially all the population is in the Provo area and its suburbs, along with a small slice of southern Salt Lake City exurbs. The convention opens at Noon ET, with results expected sometime in the mid-to-late afternoon. A special election has been set for Nov. 7, with a primary on Aug. 15. Utah recently changed from its mandatory-convention system, in which a primary was only held between the top two convention finishers if neither took 60%, to a more normal system where candidates can petition their way onto the primary ballot.
As a result, the convention is more like a MN or CO contest, where the party endorsement is nice to have (and a boost to a candidate’s chances in the primary) but it is not mandatory to get on to the ballot. Also, unlike before, only the convention winner (even without a 60% supermajority) gets a primary ballot spot. Thus, the convention will winnow the field significantly, since the deadline for gathering signatures was this Monday (though there is word that deadline, being before the seat was actually open, may be subject to a legal challenge). Two candidates, Provo Mayor John Curtis (R) and lawyer Tanner Ainge (R) have gathered enough signatures to continue on to the primary regardless of the convention result, meaning the primary will be at minimum a two-way and at most a three-way race. Curtis will compete for the convention endorsement as well, while Ainge is skipping today.
In addition to Curtis, there seem to be four other major candidates in the convention. But as Mayor of Provo since 2009, Curtis is probably the candidate with the highest name recognition. He turned in a very impressive 15,000 signatures; more than twice the necessary number. These two factors may convince a majority of today’s delegates to eventually support him, but he should probably not be seen as the frontrunner at the convention. Curtis was a Democrat from 2000 until 2006, during which time he ran for State Senate and was even County chair for a period. If that’s not enough to throw suspicion on his conservatism, his two terms as Mayor has meant that he’s had to compromise on ideological purity many times. His decision to gather signatures has also diminished his stature with quite a few delegates, who see themselves as the guarantor of party purity.
The favorite at the convention is thought to be State Sen. Deidre Henderson (R). She was first elected to the Senate in 2012, having started her political career as a volunteer for Chaffetz when he first ran in 2008. Henderson is generally considered one of the most libertarian members of the Senate, having promoted business-friendly legislation and transparency. Her relative youth and telegenic appearance should also help her today.
Henderson’s most prominent rival is thought to be State Sen. Margaret Dayton (R). Dayton is the longest serving female member of the Utah Legislature, having been a State Rep for ten years before ousting an incumbent GOP Senator in 2006. She is usually ranked among the top (social) conservatives in the Senate and locally she is nicknamed “The Iron Lady”. These are traits likely to endear her to the delegates, but her advanced age might give them pause, as 68 is a bit late to be starting a House career.
The most antiestablishment major candidate is ex-State Rep. Chris Herrod (R), Herrod was appointed to the House in 2007, when he beat out none other than John Curtis for the job. Herrod ran against Senator Orin Hatch in 2012, but was eliminated at the convention. In 2016 he ran and lost against incumbent GOP State Sen. Curt Bramble – the man Curtis lost against as a Democrat in 2000. Politically, Herrod is perhaps the most critical of illegal immigration of the major candidates and in manner and choice of words, he is probably also the one closest to Donald Trump. Herrod’s antiestablishment leanings could cut either way depending on the makeup of the delegate pool; while he is probably a long-shot, a favorable delegate pool could propel him to victory.
The final candidate with political experience is State Rep. Brad Daw (R). Daw was first elected to the State House in 2004, but lost the nomination in 2012 before winning his seat back in 2014. Daw was County chair in the 1990s, so he has some organizational experience and contacts. However, though he is a serious contender, he is not expected to win, unless some of the other candidates need a compromise choice to fall back on.
Among the six minor candidates, we have maybe to or three with an outside chance of winning. Attorney and veteran Stewart Peay (R) has the endorsement of Ann Romney, who is an aunt of his wife. The fairly libertarian Peay could have some support in an area where Romney is a veritable folk hero. Pundit and activist Debbie Aldrich (R) runs a local Friends of Israel group and seems to be more Trump-friendly than most Utahns; she might have some base among Trumpists. Finally, former Congressional staffer Damian Kidd (R) originally declared his candidacy for this seat back in January, originally intending to run against Chaffetz, so he may have some organization. His sole political experience seems to be as an aide to then Congressman, now Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho.
The other minor candidates are defense contractor Paul Fife (R), activist and roadside assistance operator Keith Kuder (R), and IRS employee and disability activist Shayne Row (R). Remember that in conventions, there is always a small but significant chance that someone comes out of nowhere to win by giving a great speech – we have seen that happen too many times to discount the possibility here. Thus, don’t think that the candidates with the biggest stature are necessarily the prohibitive favorites.
The Democrats are also nominating today, at roughly the same time as the GOP. The overwhelming favorite seems to be physician Kathie Allen (D), who has so far raised almost 700K, although most of it from before Chaffetz announced his resignation. She has been active with the Utah Medical Association and has been involved in Democratic campaigns since the mid 70s.
With her financial and organizational lead she should be favored over the two other candidates, health worker and activist Ben Frank (D) and biologist and environmental activist Carl Ingwell (D). They’ve raised less than 10K between them and at a recent debate they took some potshots at Allens prolific fundraising, claiming that she didn’t really have a political program, only money. These accusations are not likely to stick, but as with the GOP side, conventions are strange beasts and an upset can not be counted out altogether.