Though conservative firebrand Chris Herrod hasn’t conceded yet, the Associated Press and most political observers have named Provo mayor John Curtis the winner in yesterday’s special GOP primary in the third congressional district of Utah. Held to select a successor to Fox News’ latest “personality,” Jason Chaffetz, the primary was a three-way affair involving front-runner Curtis, Herrod (endorsed by an ideologue-dominated party convention), and basketball scion Tanner Ainge (son of former BYU and NBA star Danny Ainge). Most of the drama was generated by Herrod’s friends at the Club for Growth, who ran a lot of ads labeling Curtis a tax-loving RINO, mainly because he was a Democrat back in the day.
When the vote-counting stopped last night, Curtis was leading with 41 percent of the vote; Herrod had 31 percent and Ainge 28 percent. The main reason Herrod is holding out is that an estimated 30,000 mail ballots postmarked by August 14 are yet to be counted in Utah County (the district’s largest) alone. Curtis’s overall lead is under 8,000 votes. But since he has a healthy lead in Utah County as well, there’s no particular reason to think the late mail ballots will reverse the results.
Curtis is now an overwhelming favorite against Democrat Kathie Allen. As the Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke observed, the bigger significance of Curtis’s win was that it validated a 2014 change in Utah election law that ended the nomination conventions’ monopoly by letting candidates qualify for the primary ballot via a reasonable number of petitions:
Tuesday’s decisive win by Curtis, who finished a distant fifth at the convention, lays bare not only the total disconnect between the convention delegates and actual Republican voters in the district, but also shows that candidates no longer have to surrender their principles and dance like trained monkeys for the frothing arch-conservative delegates.
That’s good news for supporters of small-d democracy everywhere.