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Former state rep wins GOP nod for 3rd District special election to replace Chaffetz

Published June 20, 2017 9:27 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After five rounds of voting, former state Rep. Chris Herrod narrowly nabbed the Republican nomination for Utah's 3rd Congressional District on Saturday, defying doubts and cementing his comeback to politics.

"I want to go and remind Congress that we need to get to work," he told the crowd of nearly 800 delegates. He was met by whistles, cheers and claps that erupted each time he walked onto the stage during the five-hourlong convention to select one conservative nominee in the race to replace outgoing Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Herrod knocked out 10 other GOP candidates, noting he's "always been comfortable with being the underdog." He now joins a three-way primary set for Aug. 15 with Provo Mayor John Curtis and investment adviser Tanner Ainge, who both qualified for the ballot by gathering signatures.



Following his unexpected victory, Herrod emerged from the auditorium of Timpview High School — where the convention was held and where he graduated in 1983 — to a swarm of smiling delegates.

"Congratulations, Chris," shouted one man.

"Good job," said another with a pat on the back for Herrod.

Others standing nearby pressed against the walls and looked stunned. The early favorite and anticipated winner — state Sen. Deidre Henderson — lost in the final round of votes: 338 to 415.

"Obviously, I would've liked a different outcome," Henderson said outside the school. "I can't think of anything we would've done differently."

She did not offer an endorsement in the race, though she condemned the last-minute rules change by the Utah Republican Party that made it so only one candidate, rather than the typical two, would walk out of the special election convention a winner. Henderson previously worked on Chaffetz's first campaign for office in 2008.

One delegate, Carolina Herrin, of Spanish Fork, left Saturday still wearing her "Henderson for Congress" T-shirt.

"I'm disappointed," Herrin said. "I was extremely sad that was the end result."

Henderson and Herrod had flip-flopped between first and second place during the five rounds while some members of the audience nervously chewed on licorice and campaign staffers paced the aisles. Herrod ultimately gained 215 supporters from the first vote to the last, though some 27 delegates had left early.

During his first speech, Herrod quietly approached the microphone with his wife, Alia, filling his allotted six minutes with stories about how the couple met in Ukraine and his "fascination with U.S.-Soviet relations."

By the last round of votes, the audience had heavily swayed in Herrod's favor and the former state representative walked out confidently, dismissing his earlier shyness. During his speeches, Herrod talked about his devotion to the Constitution and how to improve relations with Russia. He also supports the GOP-led effort to repeal Obamacare and is a longtime critic of illegal immigration.

"The left and the Democrats want to stall the conservative agenda," he told reporters. "As conservatives, we need to do better. … We need to wake up this nation."

A number of delegates pointed to Herrod's work running Sen. Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign as the tipping point in casting a vote for him. Cruz followed Herrod's win on Saturday with an endorsement on Facebook.

"[Herrod] led my campaign in Utah to a major victory, and I'm confident he'll prove to be a courageous conservative in Congress — at a time when more strong leaders are very much needed," the Republican senator from Texas wrote. After Cruz lost in the primary, Herrod voted for now-President Donald Trump.

Before the convention started, many delegates said they were undecided, which likely aided the unpredicted final push for Herrod.

State Sen. Maraget Dayton, attorney and Utah National Guard veteran Stewart Peay, state Rep. Brad Daw and Curtis also ranked high in votes early on. They shared similar stances on health care and tax reform, Trump and public lands.

Competition • Herrod said Curtis, who is well-liked as mayor of the third largest city in the state, is his biggest competition in the primary.

"Fortunately, it's just one city," Herrod said. "He's the mayor of one city, not the whole district."

Curtis, though, sees himself as "kind of a dark horse." A lot of Republicans resent him, he said, because he was a registered Democrat about 20 years ago. That's why, Curtis said, he collected signatures and participated in the convention.

"There's a lot of people who won't let me get past that," he said. Several attendees said they didn't want to "waste" a vote on Curtis because he's already on the ballot. Still, the mayor got 71 votes in the first run and stayed in the convention until the fourth round.

Curtis and Herrod previously faced off in 2007 in a special election race for state Rep. Jeff Alexander's seat. Though Curtis had one more delegate vote than Herrod, the governor ultimately appointed Herrod, who then served in the House for five years.

Herrod has also previously launched — and subsequently lost — bids to unseat U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and, later, state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

Boos and bucks • Saturday got off to a shaky start.

The party introduced a new online voting system — to save money while the Utah GOP faces a $500,000 debt and asked Chaffetz pay for the convention — but it was stalled by Wi-Fi glitches and confusion. A test run took more than an hour to complete, and the first vote didn't happen until three hours into the convention.

The party's new chairman, Rob Anderson, also faced backlash from delegates over the vote threshold. Typically, a candidate must get 60 percent to win; it was changed to just over 50 percent for the special election. About half of the audience booed when Anderson responded to complaints on the topic.

The Utah GOP also stirred debate over a recommended $20 registration fee to attend the convention. About 300 of the roughly 1,100 delegates did not attend Saturday's convention. It's unclear if that was because of the additional cost.

Still, Anderson said the party raised $3,692. Volunteers passed money bins around the auditorium Saturday, asking for donations. Those coffers ended up at the front of the room, just as Herrod took the stage for the last time with his family. He now is a real estate agent in Provo and serves on the Utah State Central Committee. He pledged to bring his experience in competitive fencing to Washington.

"In Congress, I will bring that same determination."

ctanner@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner

Editor's note: This story has been updated from the original version to correct the date of Chaffetz's first campaign to 2008 and to identify Herrod as a former state representative.

 

 

 

 

 

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