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Curtis-Herrod re-match in 3rd District not making same headlines as Romney's Senate race

FILE - Chris Herrod and Rep. John Curtis, who are running for re-election for the third congressional district, speak during the Utah Republican Party state convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Both Curtis and
FILE - Chris Herrod and Rep. John Curtis, who are running for re-election for the third congressional district, speak during the Utah Republican Party state convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Both Curtis and Chris Herrod will advance to a primary election.
Deseret News composite photo

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney may be making national headlines for being forced into a primary in the U.S. Senate race, but the re-match between Rep. John Curtis and former state lawmaker Chris Herrod isn't attracting much attention.

Curtis, R-Utah, who fell 12 votes shy of securing the nomination at Saturday's GOP State Convention, lost to Herrod at last year's convention but handily beat him in a special primary election and went on to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

That off-year election in the 3rd Congressional District drew nearly a million dollars from outside groups for largely negative campaign mailers and TV commercials in what was a three-way race between Curtis, Herrod and lawyer Tanner Ainge.

FILE - Rep. John Curtis, who is running for re-election for the third congressional district, speaks during the Utah Republican Party state convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Both Curtis and Chris Herrod will
FILE - Rep. John Curtis, who is running for re-election for the third congressional district, speaks during the Utah Republican Party state convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Both Curtis and Chris Herrod will advance to a primary election.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

But now it's the race between Romney, the Republican's 2012 presidential nominee, and state Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, that's expected to be front and center between now and the June 26 primary election.

Herrod said he's already run into confusion about the other big race on the Utah Republican primary ballot this year.

"I have friends in D.C. that called me wanting to talk about Mitt's and Mike's race and didn't fully realize that I had actually run again and had come out of convention," Herrod said. "I try not to have too much of an ego."

Curtis, who traveled back to the nation's Capitol on Tuesday, sounded more upbeat.

"There's a lot of interest. On the plane, people were asking me about it. People coming in my office here are asking about it. At church they were asking about it," the congressman said.

He said they told him it was "no small thing" that he ended up Saturday with just under the required 60 percent of delegate votes from the 3rd Congressional District needed to skip a primary, when he finished at 9 percent at last year's convention.

Herrod said he's already raised several thousand dollars from family and friends since Saturday to pay for signs and other campaign materials, but is still deciding whether it's worth a trip to Washington, D.C., to solicit contributions there.

Big national supporters from his 2017 race, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a conservative firebrand who faces his own tough re-election fight, likely will be focused on other races this election cycle, Herrod said.

Having Romney on the ballot likely will boost voter turnout, he said, and end up helping Curtis. His hope is that last year's Ainge voters will look to him as the more conservative choice.

"No matter what, even if things go perfectly for me, it's still going to be a grassroots, talk to your neighbor (campaign). That's kind of the difference, I think, between our campaigns," Herrod said.

Curtis, a former Provo mayor who was sworn in to represent the district five months ago, said it's too soon to talk specifics about his primary election plans because he's "still getting my feet underneath me after the convention phase."

Chris Herrod, who is running for the third congressional district, speaks during the Utah Republican Party state convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Both Herrod and John Curtis will advance to a primary electi
Chris Herrod, who is running for the third congressional district, speaks during the Utah Republican Party state convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Both Herrod and John Curtis will advance to a primary election.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

He said given his performance with delegates in 2017, he had little choice but to gather voter signatures to guarantee a place on the primary ballot, the only one of the five Republicans competing at convention that did.

"You can't really get 9 percent one year and then think you're just going to walk in and own the thing next year," Curtis said. "While we would have dearly loved not to have a primary, I'm also not afraid of it."

He said labels like conservative have not come up during his meetings with delegates and constituents. Nor did the renewed controversy surrounding sexual misconduct complaints against former Provo Police Chief John King.

Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said Herrod "has his work cut out for him" in the upcoming primary election.

"I think if you're in the Chris Herrod campaign, the concern is the race is going to be completely overshadowed," he said. "You have to be able to get voters' attention and convince them that the person they just elected is not acceptable in some way."

But the convention results suggest Curtis, who years ago led the Utah County Democratic Party, has boosted his standing with the conservative wing of the party, Karpowitz said.

"I think the convention results make Herrod look a little weaker than he was the last time around," he said, something that will be harder to counter without significant financial resources, including spending by outside groups in support of his campaign.

Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Curtis now has with the power of incumbency. That, combined with his increased appeal to conservatives, should make for an easier race.

"He has been in D.C. He's been listening and paying attention to the voters. He's had a chance to vote on some signficant legislation," including the $1.5 trillion tax cut, Perry said. "I've not heard people complaining about the job he has done."

Curtis said he relishes campaigning, calling it the "silver lining" in having a primary.

"I tell you what, I'm really looking forward to this," he said. "I have a really good story to tell."

Herrod said he got in the race late, wanting to ensure he wouldn't face another three-way battle for the nomination, and wants voters to know that after the convention he is "reinvigorated."

"I'm all in," Herrod said.