The three GOP Congressional candidates running to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz faced off in a debate Friday night in Provo, just two weeks before the primary.
Provo Mayor John Curtis endured the most scrutiny from his opponents over his prior political affiliation. Tanner Ainge, a Utah County financial consultant, took the first shot at Curtis over halfway through the debate, moderated by the Hinckley Institute and Salt Lake Tribune.
Asked how he would build bridges to work with Democrats in Congress, Ainge took the chance to disparage Curtis for having formerly been a registered Democrat himself.
“I’m a little bit concerned about my opponent John Curtis, because while I think it’s important to work together, I don’t think you have to switch sides,” he said, prompting audible groans from Curtis supporters in the crowd.
Later, former state lawmaker Chris Herrod echoed Ainge in questioning Curtis’ record as a fiscal conservative.
“So I am concerned that when people say they’re conservative, but their actions are not,” he said. “It is a problem.”
In rebuttal, Curtis said he wasn’t the first politician to change parties.
“Like Jason Chaffetz, like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, I once had a fling on the dark side,” he said. “That was 20 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.”
In recent polls, the more moderate Curtis has held a double digit lead over Ainge and Herrod in the heavily conservative 3rd Congressional District.
Otherwise, there was little, if any, discord between the candidates on issues of policy.
All three said they supported Congressional Republicans’ unsuccessful efforts to repeal Obamacare, President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and the Interior Secretary’s recommendation to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument.
Primary ballots have already been mailed out to voters in the district. The winner of the August 15 primary will face Democrat Kathie Allen in the general election.