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Provo • The first congressional debate in the race to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz was as civil and courteous as an afternoon tea party.

No one interrupted. Not one candidate offered a rebuttal. There were no raised voices. And they all politely agreed on rigorously conservative policies.

The role of federal government? It should be limited.

Tax increases? There shouldn't be any.

What about Obamacare? Repeal it.

The tame affair Tuesday night, hosted by Americans for Prosperity-Utah, lasted about 80 minutes with the candidates taking turns saying, "I agree with him" or, "as he said before." They even wore similar red ties.

The majority-conservative audience of more than 500 people loved it. It cheered and whistled after each response, offering the loudest claps for the Republicans: Provo Mayor John Curtis, former state Rep. Chris Herrod and investment adviser Tanner Ainge.

The three candidates are competing in the Aug. 15 primary for one GOP spot on the general election ballot, where the winner will face Democrat Kathie Allen (who said she did not receive an invitation to join Tuesday's debate while the host said she did not respond).

Though the Republicans did not differentiate themselves much on platforms — the three said after the event that the questions, focused mostly on economics, wouldn't allow for it — they did offer slightly different takes on what experience makes them stand out.

Curtis focused his answers on his track record in Provo — with a decidedly home field advantage because the debate held at the city's Covey Center for the Arts. He touted his efforts to lower property taxes and reduce debt, as well as to return power to local governments for decisions on health care and education.

He offered the strongest rebuke of the Affordable Care Act, while condemning the GOP for not having a more viable plan ready to replace it.

"As Republicans, we should all be just a tad bit embarrassed that for years and years we complained about Obamacare and when we had our moment in the sun where we control the House and the Senate, we weren't ready," he said. "We put together a half-baked bill."

Curtis, who ranked first among the conservative candidates in a recent Utah Policy poll, supports the health care amendment proposed by Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz that would give insurance companies more flexibility in offering cheaper and less comprehensive plans. While all of the other candidates also voiced favor for the proposal — Herrod said it's "making the bill much better" and promoted his endorsement from Cruz — Ainge slightly dodged the question.

While he agrees with dumping Obamacare, Ainge focused his answer more on giving states control of running a free-market system. That method, he said, would help curb spending — a large part of his platform, given his experience as a portfolio manager.

"We have to reintroduce choice and competition back into the health care marketplace," he said to a loud and hearty applause.

Ainge calls himself a "principled conservative" and proposed a significant overhaul to the American tax system, including reducing the number of brackets from seven to three. He also said the problem with federal debt isn't a lack of revenue (i.e. not collecting enough taxes), but in spending.

Meanwhile, Herrod labels himself a "platform Republican" and spoke about his experience in the Legislature. His responses largely criticized the federal government for being too involved and overstepping its roles outlined in the Constitution. He lamented that states, including Utah, don't have enough control of their "tremendous natural resources" and energy production.

"Let Utahns make those decisions," he shouted. Herrod, who won the Republican Party's nomination in June, responded to several other questions on various topics with the same response: Get the government out of the way.

The three GOP candidates were joined by Libertarian Joe Buchman, a professor who says "taxation is theft," and Independent American Party nominee Jason Christensen, who called for abolishing the IRS, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education.

"I do not like Washington, D.C., at all," Christensen said, with his arms remaining folded for much of the debate. "I do not like the cesspool."

Ainge and Herrod disapproved of Buchman and Christensen's participation in what was originally billed as a Republican debate; the two nonmajor party candidates joined in the few days before the event after outcry that they weren't invited.

"It was a little bit frustrating because I want to distinguish myself with the other two Republicans," Ainge said.

Herrod was irritated by the situation because Buchman and Christensen will bypass the primary and head straight to the November ballot — while he, Ainge and Curtis are competing for one spot. Still, he said, "They behaved very well."

Many in the audience remained unsure of whom to vote for, both before and after the debate — which accords with the Utah Policy poll finding that 49 percent of 3rd Congressional District voters are undecided.

Brandon Banks, of Draper, said he's still figuring it out. He wants to determine which of the three Republicans "is going to support the president's agenda" on health care and immigration. Herrod, who is an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, said that's one of "the more contentious issues" that the debate did not address. Had it gone there, he believes the exchanges may not have been so polite and respectful.

Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner