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U.S. Rep. Curtis victorious in GOP primary for 3rd District

PROVO — Rep. John Curtis once again defeated his party challenger Tuesday night — with a resounding unofficial majority — in the Republican primary for Utah's 3rd Congressional District.

Chris Herrod conceded to the incumbent candidate in a phone call after just 30 minutes of unofficial results showing a resounding victory for Curtis.

Curtis will face Democratic opponent James Singer, along with third-party candidates, in the November general election.

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, the unofficial results had Curtis with 74 percent of the reported votes. Curtis received 55,977 of the 74,927 cast votes.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, his, wife Sue, center, and staff members watch primary election results for the 3rd Congressional District in Provo on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.
Rep. John Curtis and his wife Sue, center, join with staff as they watch results in Provo on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, for Utah's 3rd congressional district.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

Curtis gave a victory speech to supporters and staff after Herrod called to concede during an informal event at Provo's Riverview Park. Nervousness was not a present emotion during the hourlong event — polling had shown Curtis decisively in the lead throughout the run-up to the primary.

"We did it," Curtis said to the crowd of about 60 people, who responded to the presumptive Republican nominee with cheers. Curtis went on to thank his supporters and staff.

Curtis said the win margin, compared to last year's special election, shows that they're on the right track.

"Now, this is just the primary, and it's easy to feel like you've crossed the finish line, but we've got another finish line in a few months and I need all of your help again," Curtis said of the November election.

About a mile away at Herrod's event at a small backyard barbecue in Provo, the defeated challenger thanked the somber group gathered — especially his wife and parents — and told them that Curtis was "solidly the Republican candidate."

"My belief in the Constitution's not changed," Herrod said.

After Curtis became the presumptive winner of Tuesday night's Republican primary, Singer released a statement congratulating Curtis and addressing the campaign to come.

"I want to assure John that I will conduct my campaign with civility toward him," Singer said in a prepared statement. "I want to also assure him that I will critique his stances and record where I feel it is warranted and fair."

Singer also said they both have a responsibility that goes beyond their two campaigns.

Tuesday wasn't the first time Curtis and Herrod faced off. That happened during last year's special election to replace former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who resigned during his fifth term in office and became a Fox News contributor.

Last year, Herrod, a former state lawmaker known for his conservative stands on immigration and other issues, was the pick of Republican Party delegates at a special convention while Curtis, then the mayor of Provo, won just 9 percent of their vote.

But it was Curtis who came out on top in 2017's hard-fought GOP primary that also included political newcomer Tanner Ainge and attracted nearly a million dollars in outside spending largely aimed at helping Herrod.

At this year's state Republican Party convention, Curtis fell just 12 votes short of surpassing the 60 percent threshold of delegate support needed to win the party's nomination outright and avoid a primary.

In both elections, Curtis chose to gather voter signatures to guarantee a place on the ballot in addition to competing at convention, an option available under a controversial law unpopular with a vocal wing of the GOP.

That didn't seem to affect his popularity with Republican voters. Curtis, the newest member of Utah's all-GOP congressional delegation, had a seemingly insurmountable 47-point lead over Herrod in a poll conducted in mid-May.

Curtis also outraised — and outspent — his opponent, reporting bringing in nearly $140,000 since April, compared to almost $12,800 for Herrod during the same pre-primary period.

The same filings with the Federal Election Commission show Curtis with close to $48,000 in cash on hand as of June 6, and Herrod with about $6,000 available to spend as of the same date.

Unlike last year's slew of TV commercials for the 3rd District race, the focus of the 2018 primary has been on the U.S. Senate race between former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and state Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine.

There have still been sparks between Curtis and Herrod over whether Curtis is conservative enough for the district, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties as well as San Juan, Emery, Grand, Carbon and Wasatch counties.

At their May debate sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission, the candidates clashed repeatedly. Herrod reminded the audience he campaigned for President Donald Trump, while Curtis questioned Trump's policies, including on tariffs.

Along with Singer, Curtis will face the United Utah Party's Melanie McCoard and the Independent American Party's Gregory Duerden.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche