Analysis: Why is Chaffetz stepping down from Congress?

Third District U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz stunned Utah politicos Wednesday morning by announcing he won’t run for re-election in 2018.

The announcement likely means one of two things:

  • Chaffetz is going into the private sector to earn some big bucks.
  • Or he is taking two years off to campaign for Utah’s governorship in 2020.

In his Facebook posting, Chaffetz says he is not running for any office in 2018.

But would he really pass up a chance at the U.S. Senate if Sen. Orrin Hatch decides to retire? We’ll see.

Chaffetz seriously thought about running against Hatch five years ago, only to step out of the race after the Salt Lake Tribune and other media outlets reported he was likely in the Hatch contest.

One thing is clear from Chaffetz’ decision Wednesday – he doesn’t believe he can actively be President Donald Trump’s boy in the U.S. House – as chairman of the House Oversight Committee which is supposed to be a check on the president and executive branch – and still be a viable statewide candidate in Utah.

Chaffetz doesn’t have good favorable numbers in a new poll.

And his Democratic opponent in 2018 is raising a bunch of cash.

There are also Republicans lining up to challenge him.

And Chaffetz knows the dangers of an intraparty challenge in the very conservative 3rd District – he ousted then-Rep. Chris Cannon in a 2008 GOP primary election.

But it’s likely not his poll numbers nor possible challengers. If he ran again, Chaffetz would be the overwhelming favorite to win re-election.

But he’d be in for a costly fight. And if he really wants to move up to higher office he might as well get out of his current problems.

Indeed, it’s his ambition for higher office that likely gets Chaffetz out of his office now:

Trump simply is not popular in Utah. And with the crazy first 100 days of his presidency, it’s probably not likely he will become much more so over the next few months or a year.

Chaffetz has been pounded by the national media and Democrats for not mounting any credible House Oversight Committee investigations of Trump and his associates.

The House Intelligence Committee took over the Russia/election connection investigation and totally blew it, at least so far.

If Democrat Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, Chaffetz promised “years” of investigations by his committee – endearing himself to Utahns and Republicans across the nation.

But with Trump’s surprise win, Chaffetz is without a foil. In fact, Trump quickly became a liability to Chaffetz and his future political ambitions.

Hatch says he’ll likely run for re-election unless his health suffers.

Chaffetz’ Wednesday announcement may be a push to the aging senator to keep out of the contest.

After the pre-emptive challenge previously, it’s likely Hatch would criticize any Chaffetz run for the Senate next year or the governorship in 2020.

Hey, Hatch has already endorsed Josh Romney, one of Mitt’s sons, for the 2020 gubernatorial race.

There is no love lost between Chaffetz and Hatch.

Look for a GOP free-for-all in the 3rd District, which is still based in conservative Utah County – Provo and Orem — but flows up along Salt Lake County’s more moderate east side.

You can start naming possible candidates now and won’t stop for months.

On thing Chaffetz’ announcement does do is provide adequate time for Republicans to organize and run effective, well-funded campaigns for the 3rd District.

We now await any further decisions by Chaffetz, who is only 50 years old and could have years of public service ahead of him.