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When Provo Mayor John Curtis discovered that his city came in second in a nationwide ranking of the best-run municipalities, he had just one word in response.

"Darn!"

Though Curtis has joined the race for Rep. Jason Chaffetz's now-empty congressional seat — and looks to have a fair shot at winning — his first concern while he finishes his eighth year as mayor is still Provo's success.

"We should be No. 1," he said with a laugh.

Still, for Utah's third-largest city to rank that high in the WalletHub study released Monday is "validation of how well we're doing things," Curtis said. The results were based on how individual cities spend public funds and the services residents receive, as well as crime rates and health, education and pollution.

Provo was bested by Nampa, Idaho, but narrowly outranked Boise, Idaho, which earned third place. Washington, D.C., came in at the bottom of the list of 150, with New York City, Detroit and San Francisco also bringing up the rear.

Salt Lake City, the only other Utah city to make the list, claimed spot No. 40.

Curtis credited Provo's employees, including administrators and police officers, for their commitment to the city and its recognition in the study. During his time as mayor, Curtis has worked to improve Provo's economic development and downtown vibrancy, as well as launched clean-air and recreation initiatives.

He hopes those efforts — and now the city's new ranking — will show voters what he's accomplished and drive forward his congressional bid.

And he's already got an early edge.

Curtis is the front-runner among the three Republicans, slightly surpassing former state Rep. Chris Herrod and investment adviser Tanner Ainge in a Utah Policy poll released Monday from Dan Jones & Associates.

Though 49 percent of the 199 respondents (all conservatives in the 3rd Congressional District) remain undecided, 29 percent favor Curtis. Meanwhile, 12 percent support Herrod and 10 percent would vote for Ainge.

A Curtis victory is far from assured, though. The poll has a margin of error of 7 percentage points and was conducted June 23 to July 5. More than a month remains until the Aug. 15 primary. The winner of the GOP showdown goes on to face Democrat Kathie Allen in the Nov. 7 election.

The Provo mayor, too, has been dogged by criticisms in past weeks — including from the national conservative foundation Club for Growth, which has spent money for and against Utah candidates in the past.

The group tweeted at Curtis on Thursday — after he promised to never vote for a tax-rate increase — calling him a "liberal, tax-hiking Democrat masquerading as a Republican." Questions about his party loyalty have been a common attack lobbed at Curtis's campaign.

"People just won't let go of it," he said.

While Curtis has openly acknowledged his short stint as a Democrat (when he unsuccessfully ran against state GOP Sen. Curt Bramble in 2000), he dismissed the claim that he would vote to raise taxes.

"It's clear that Club for Growth has never been to Provo and knows nothing about me," he said.

The club did not provide a response to The Salt Lake Tribune's request for comment Monday.

Curtis said residents overwhelmingly voted for a recreations, arts and parks tax last year, which is a one-cent sales tax per $10 spent, but that a "mayor has no ability to raise taxes." Those initiatives are proposed solely by City Council members, he added.

The mayor also said, after factoring in inflation, that Provo is collecting less property tax per resident than when he first came into the office in 2009. The Club for Growth's statements are "half-truths," he said.

"This is why Washington is so divisive — using labels rather than seeing what I've done."

Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner

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