SALT LAKE CITY — The Republican race to fill a Utah congressional seat abandoned by Jason Chaffetz is pitting the party establishment, which is backing a popular mayor with a Democratic past, against further-right conservatives who are divided between two candidates with support from national GOP heavy-hitters.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will be the overwhelming favorite in the November special election in a district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats five-to-one.
The three candidates say they support President Donald Trump’s agenda, including the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, tax reform and efforts to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law.
But in Mormon-majority Utah, where Trump struggled to gain widespread support despite the state’s overwhelmingly Republican slant, the candidates have carved out nuanced stances toward the president.
John Curtis, the Provo mayor who has drawn support from the GOP’s more moderate flank, is the only candidate who didn’t vote for Trump, saying he had significant moral concerns about supporting the billionaire businessman.
Tanner Ainge, the son of Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge endorsed by Sarah Palin, said he voted for Trump because he always votes for the Republican candidate in presidential elections.
Chris Herrod, a former state lawmaker backed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is the most vocal supporter of Trump. He said he did not think it was necessary for a special prosecutor to be appointed to look into possible ties between the president’s campaign and Russia.
The victor of the November election will serve the final year of Chaffetz’s term after the outspoken congressman surprisingly resigned at the end of June, saying he wanted to spend more time with…