John Curtis rebuffs Utah GOP challenger in bid for full term

In this Saturday, June 23, 2018, photo, U.S. Rep. John Curtis speaks during a town hall meeting, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Curtis looking to take a major step toward winning his first full term in Congress in Utah's 3rd District. He won a special election to finish Rep. Jason Chaffetz's term months ago, and is now facing a rematch against former state lawmaker Chris Herrod. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — U.S. Rep. John Curtis fended off a challenger in Utah’s Republican primary Tuesday to take a huge step toward winning his first full term in Congress.

The 58-year-old former Provo mayor secured his nomination for re-election by beating businessman Chris Herrod by a wide margin.

Curtis will be favored in the general election as he seeks his first full term in November against Democrat college professor James Singer and United Utah Party candidate Melanie McCoard. Curtis’s 3rd Congressional District is heavily Republican and stretches from the suburbs of Salt Lake City to the state’s rural southeast corner.

Curtis entered office following a special election last year to replace Jason Chaffetz. Herrod had unsuccessfully challenged Curtis in that election as well.

Curtis said he’s looking forward to the November election and getting to the “finish line” as he spoke to reporters at an election night party in Orem hosted by fellow GOP primary night winner Mitt Romney, who is seeking to replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. He took photographs with voters as he celebrated his victory.

“I’m looking forward to having a full term,” Curtis said. “It’s hard to do things on that short cycle.”

Curtis, a former Democrat, has broken with President Donald Trump on plans for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the administration’s policy of separating families after illegal border crossings.

Hardliner Republicans criticized Curtis for his Democratic past and for taking the unpopular route of gathering voter signatures to ensure a spot in the primary, instead of trying to win the nomination solely by appealing to delegates at the party’s April convention. Curtis competed at the convention and came just 1.25 percentage points shy of winning the nomination outright at that event.

“This is one of the most conservative districts in the country, and I think it’s validation tonight that we’re well-aligned with them,” Curtis said.

Curtis said Herrod was “very gracious” in a phone call conceding the race, and that the two men “talked about finding areas where we could work together to help the Republican Party.”

Herrod, who touted himself to voters as a conservative pro-Trump alternative, acknowledged that the results show Curtis clearly has the backing of the state’s Republican Party. He said he and Curtis clearly have different philosophies about what Republicanism means, but said he’s willing to support Curtis moving forward.

“I told John (Curtis) that I’ll try to help him with my wing of the party. At the same time, if I have concerns, I’ll express them to him,” Herrod said.

The win marks two in a row for Curtis who won a three-way race last year to finish the term of Chaffetz, who is now a commentator on Fox News Channel. Chaffetz stepped down last year saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Curtis won a race in which he had a much deeper war chest than Herrod, raising $137,000 in the two months ahead of the election, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. Herrod raised just $7,500.

Utah Republicans running for re-election in the state’s three other U.S. House seats — Reps. Rob Bishop, Mia Love and Chris Stewart — won their nominations at the state party convention in April.

In the Democratic primary in the state’s 1st Congressional District, social worker Lee Castillo was leading businessman Kurt Weiland, but there were too many uncounted ballots to call the race. If he holds on to victory, Castillo would be an underdog against Bishop in the November general election in the predominantly Republican district that runs across the northern part of the state. United Utah Party candidate Eric Eliason will also be on the ballot.

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