The Republican mayor of the Mormon stronghold of Provo, Utah, won a special election Tuesday to replace former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, an expected victory in the heavily GOP congressional district.
John Curtis fended off challenges from Democrat Kathryn Allen and third-party candidate Jim Bennett, a centrist and the son of former longtime U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett.
Curtis’ opponents had tried to tie him to President Donald Trump, who got a lukewarm reception from Utah conservatives during the 2016 presidential race. Curtis didn’t vote for Trump but said he supported the president’s agenda.
Curtis said Tuesday night that his experience in business and in Provo city government resonated with voters.
“People know who I am,” said Curtis, 57. “There’s a lot of work to get done and I think I feel like I can do it.”
Curtis, who will have to run for re-election in 2018, said he wants to start working on the big issues in Congress such as health care and tax reform.
Curtis campaigned with the Trump refrains “drain the swamp” and “build the wall” and said he supports the president’s tax reform goals and Supreme Court nominees. Curtis said he would like to see former President Barack Obama’s health care law repealed, something Trump had called for, but also said he would support bipartisan efforts to reform it.
Curtis has said he supports Trump’s call to strengthen border security, including the controversial plan for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but that a wall may not make sense in some areas and technology may be needed to secure those spots.
Curtis is expected to be sworn in quickly as Republicans controlling the House hope to tackle an ambitious agenda before year’s end. The reliably GOP Utah congressional seat has sat empty since the end of June, when Chaffetz abruptly resigned.
The district, which has five registered Republicans for every registered Democrat, stretches from several Salt Lake City suburbs and several ski towns southeast to Provo, coal country and the tourist-heavy red rock deserts.
Chaffetz held the seat for eight years and was known for persistent investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails and her handling of a terrorist attack in Benghazi in his role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
With Trump’s election, he found himself in the uncomfortable position of facing calls to investigate his party’s top elected officials, including their possible ties to Russia, while staying politically loyal to the GOP.
Chaffetz said he resigned to spend more time with family and quickly became a paid Fox News contributor.
The Democrat who jumped in to challenge Chaffetz raised half a million dollars for her campaign earlier this year. Allen, a family physician, seized on his comments suggesting people should spend their money on health insurance instead of iPhones. But her heavy fundraising stalled after Chaffetz left office.
Bennett ran as the first candidate of a new political party he helped found, United Utah, after suing the state to win a place on the ballot. He worked for his father’s campaigns but left the Republican Party when it picked Trump as its presidential candidate.