Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News
Mark Thomas Chief Deputy/Director of Elections in the Lt. Govenor’s Office speaks about the special election timeline to replace U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz in the Gold Room at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 19, 2017.
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s game on in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s imminent departure touched off a flurry of candidate announcements the past couple of days, with more likely to come in the next week. Some candidates declared a month ago on the heels of the five-term Republican congressman’s decision not to run again in 2018.
Chaffetz announced Thursday that June 30 would be his last day in office.
That sent state officials scrambling to set up a special election and would-be successors hustling to raise money and mount a campaign to get on the ballot.
“The candidates have to make quick decisions, obviously, with the short timeline here,” said LaVarr Webb, who publishes UtahPolicy.com and writes a column for the Deseret News.
Webb said the compressed election period could limit the number of candidates, and turmoil in Washington could discourage some “potential stars” from running. Still, it could be a large field, he said.
The lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections, set a timeline for the special election Friday.
The candidate filing deadline is May 26, and party conventions could be held starting the next day. Candidates may also gather signatures for a spot in the Aug. 15 primary election. The general election is Nov. 7.
At least seven candidates have already started campaigning.
Republicans include state Sens. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, and Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and American Fork attorney Damian Kidd.
Democrats include Salt Lake doctor Kathryn Allen, progressive political activist Ben Frank, and clean air advocate Carl Ingwell.
Among those who could jump into the race as Republicans are Provo Mayor John Curtis and former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
Webb singled out Henderson and Curtis, should he run, as the strongest candidates, though he said other solid candidates could emerge before the filing deadline.
Henderson, who helped launch Chaffetz’s upstart campaign in 2008 and ran his political operations out of her laundry room, has veteran GOP strategist Dave Hansen in her corner. She said she didn’t seriously consider running until it became clear Chaffetz would leave early.
“Life takes us in unexpected directions,” said Henderson, who is serving her second term in the Utah Senate.
Curtis is a popular two-term mayor who has decided not to run for re-election. He said he didn’t start to give the 3rd District race serious thought until the state set the timeline for the election.
“It’s clear I’m serious,” he said, adding that he intends to take up until the filing deadline to make a decision.
McMullin, who gained some traction in Utah during his late-hour bid for president, hasn’t made a decision about getting into the 3rd District race.
Allen tapped into anger over some of Chaffetz’s inflammatory rhetoric, gaining national media attention for raising more than $500,000 on Crowdpac in an effort to challenge him. But as a Democrat, she will have a tough time in the heavily Republican district.
A Democrat has represented the 3rd District once since it was created in 1983. The late Rep. Bill Orton held the seat for six years in the 1990s.
Getting donors to open their wallets, courting party delegates and reaching the district’s 352,000 registered voters spread out through seven counties — San Juan, Emery, Grand, Carbon, Wasatch, most of Utah County, including Provo, and the east side of Salt Lake County — will be a challenge for all the candidates.
“Lots of politicians vastly overestimate how well they’re known,” Webb said.
Raising money for federal offices is difficult because it can only be collected in small amounts, unlike state offices in Utah that don’t have limits.
Dayton, who announced her campaign Thursday, has served in the Utah Legislature for 20 years. She said she has “grown to appreciate being called the “Iron Lady” during that time.
A Utah House member for 11 years, Daw said he didn’t want to oust anyone from office but jumped in when Chaffetz decided not to run for another term. Daw said he’s done well in the Legislature and wants to “try out my chops” on the national level.
Ingwell kicked off his campaign Friday, saying he’s an advocate for a vibrant and forward-looking economy based on tourism, outdoor recreation, alternative energy and tech jobs.