Now that John Curtis has secured the GOP nomination in the 3rd District special congressional election let’s take a look at who came out on top and who took it in the shorts on election day.
John Curtis – He’s now the heavy favorite to win the whole thing in November and take a seat in Congress. He has many built-in advantages for the general election that will serve him well. He’s the successful, popular mayor of the population center of the district. CD3 is overwhelmingly Republican, rated as the 16th most-Republican in the nation. Whoever won the nomination was going to win in November anyway, but Curtis’ track record and more moderate political views will attract Republicans, independents and even some Democrats in November.
SB54 – Surprise, surprise. The dual-track system did exactly what it was supposed to do – allow more candidates access to the primary ballot. If this system hadn’t been in place, Chris Herrod would likely be the GOP nominee and favorite to win in November. Curtis would have never gotten out of the convention. It’s a shocking concept, but voters like having more choices on the ballot.
Voters – Tuesday night is what happens when you let people vote instead of forcing a candidate on them. With the dual-track system, they’re no longer locked into basically rubber stamping the choice of party hardliners at the ballot box. Voters want more options, and the dual-path system gives it to them. Even Tanner Ainge pulled about 30% of the vote, which is a great showing from a candidate who would have never gotten on the ballot in the first place under the old system. Republican voters no longer have to hold their nose and vote for the extremist ideologues that tend to emerge from the caucus/convention system.
Signature gathering companies – Tanner Ainge and John Curtis spent more than $100,000 between them to gather signatures to secure a place on the ballot. These businesses can expect a boom as more candidates use the signature route going forward.
Tanner Ainge – It’s pretty impressive for a candidate who didn’t even live in Utah until last November pulled just under 30% of the vote. Most Republicans I speak to say they expect Ainge to make another run for office in 2018 or 2020. This campaign is an excellent foundation to build from.
The “Buckshot Caucus” – This secretive group of centrist Republicans are claiming victory after Curtis’s win, and the more hard-line members of the Republican party are losing their minds. The Buckshot group is helping to steer Utah’s political atmosphere back toward reasonableness and Tuesday’s election was a big step toward that.
Republican delegates – They were pushing Chris Herrod as the “official Republican” in the race since he won the delegate nomination to get on the ballot. But, 70% of voters yesterday picked someone other than the candidate with the party stamp of approval. Expect the wailing and gnashing of teeth to get louder as more candidates use the signature route to avoid being eliminated before a primary by a small group of party hard-liners. Herrod won the endorsement of 415 out of 1080 total delegates (more than 300 didn’t even show up to vote at the convention). No wonder the delegates are upset that there’s another path to the ballot. The old system gave them tremendous power.
John Curtis – Even though he will probably be the next member of Utah’s Congressional delegation, Curtis will have to start fundraising for his re-election bid in 2018 immediately. He also will have to take the signature-gathering route to ensure delegates don’t try to punish him for having the temerity to win despite their best efforts. Curtis also has some fence-mending ahead of him as nearly 60% of GOP voters picked someone other than him.
Chris Herrod – With this loss, he’s starting to approach Merril Cook territory as a perpetual candidate who keeps losing. Herrod lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012, lost a bid to oust Sen. Curt Bramble from the state senate in 2016 and lost in the GOP primary on Tuesday. He hasn’t been on a general election ballot since 2010. Plus, 70% of the Republicans who cast ballots on Tuesday voted for someone other than him. It’s hard to see him get another chance at a high political office in the future.
Kathie Allen – There are a million things that need to break in Democratic nominee Kathy Allen’s favor for her to win in this heavily Republican district. However, Curtis’s track record and moderate Republican politics make her job that much harder. Allen needs to attract a sizeable number of independent and Republican voters to have a chance of pulling off the upset win.
Allen also will struggle to build name recognition against a popular mayor, and she has just over 60 days until ballots are mailed to voters. So far, all of the attention from voters has been focused on the GOP primary. Now Allen has to find a way to get that attention back and start making a case to voters.
Jason Chafetz won this district by more than 40-points in the last three elections. It’s difficult to see a path that leads to an Allen win in November. Utah County voters are not going to put a progressive Democrat in Congress.
If Herrod had ended up winning, Allen would have had a chance to peel off more moderate Republicans. Now that Curtis is the nominee, those chances drop precipitously.
Jim Bennett – The nominee of the United Utah Party is hoping to present himself as a more mainstream option for voters who are tired of extremists on both sides of the aisle. Curtis’s election puts a big dent in that strategy because Curtis fills that void for Republican voters. If the UUP gets more than 5% in November’s voting, I’ll be genuinely shocked. If I had to make a prediction, Bennett would take more votes away from Allen as he’ll pull moderate Democratic voters away who don’t like her Bernie Sanders-esque policy proposals.
Donald Trump – Utahns aren’t incredibly fond of Trump in the first place, but it’s telling that Herrod, the GOP primary candidate who tied himself most closely to Trump was soundly defeated by a GOP candidate who didn’t vote for Trump last year. Chris Herrod campaigned using Trump’s nativist and protectionist rhetoric, and it didn’t work. Trump only won CD3 with 47% of the vote last year. If Democrats are hoping to somehow nationalize this election by tying Curtis to Trump or turning the election into a referendum on Trump, they’re going to have a very difficult time doing that.
Out of state super PACs – These groups poured nearly $1 million in the race to keep Curtis from winning and it didn’t work. I don’t know if Tanner Ainge’s family will consider the quarter of a million dollars they spent with the Conservative Utah PAC money well spent, given Ainge’s third-place showing in the election. The abject failure of these groups to buy the election won’t stop them from doing it again in the future, though. Just think about all the other things that money could have been spent on instead of stupid attack ads.
Utah – The nasty tone of the election is one of the reasons people stop participating in politics. Let’s hope that the general election will focus more on solutions than negative campaigning.