PROVO — Utah’s 3rd Congressional District race pits twice-elected Republican Rep. John Curtis against first-time candidate Devin Thorpe, an author and podcaster who lives outside the district and registered as a Democrat earlier this year.
“No one was interested in taking on John Curtis,” said Thorpe, a former Republican who worked decades ago as an aide to then U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah.
Thorpe said he eventually came to believe Democrats have better ideas. He’s taking on Curtis after he ruled out other congressional races because there were already strong Democratic candidates running.
This is Curtis’ third race for the seat representing portions of Utah and Salt Lake counties and down through southeastern Utah. He was the mayor of Provo when he was first elected to Congress in 2017, in a special election to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who had resigned soon after winning a fifth term to become a Fox News contributor.
“I’m coming from the perspective of I’ve had three elections in three years. Nothing about the election feels low key to me,” Curtis said. “It’s easy to forget it now, but you’ve got to remember I came through a challenge in the Republican Party. ... Every challenger is serious. I don’t take anyone lightly.”
Curtis secured the GOP nomination at the party’s state convention, defeating Tim Aalders, a conservative talk radio show host who ran as a Constitution Party candidate in 2018 for the U.S. Senate seat won by Republican Sen. Mitt Romney.
Like Thorpe, Curtis once belonged to his opponent’s current political party.
In their debate earlier this month, Curtis said he became a Democrat for a time after working out of state and seeing the “dominance of the Republican Party” in Utah as unhealthy. But Curtis said he returned to the GOP because he identifies “far better” with Republican values, particularly fiscal conservatism.
He said he’s the rare Republican who advocates for action against climate change.
“It’s really important to me to give conservatives a voice. Frequently we’re not really at the table as we talk about the environment,” Curtis said. “This also comes back to the age of my district. The average age, I think, is 27 years of age. So I hear about it in my town hall meetings. They want answers and solutions.”
Along with Democratic Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, Curtis is pushing a bill in Congress to study the impact of soil health on public lands in carbon capture and sequestration, saying “we must rely on science to guide our decisions” about efforts to protect the environment.
Because the 3rd District includes the Silicon Slopes tech corridor that straddles Salt Lake and Utah counties, Curtis said he’s “actually made it a goal to be one of the most informed members of Congress on the technology issues.” The young voters in the district notice, he said, “if I’m not on my game.”
On the Affordable Care Act, once a top target of congressional Republicans, Curtis has joined others in his party who insist they will protect coverage for preexisting conditions. He said a repeal of the health care law also known as Obamacare is “off the table” unless there is a replacement ready, something the GOP has yet to deliver.
During a recent tour of the sprawling district, Curtis said he heard plenty of concerns related to the impacts of COVID-19, particularly on the tourism economy. Small businesses are looking for additional help from Washington and struggling with the “uncertainty” surrounding another relief package, he said.
Thorpe said he’s running for office to continue the work he started a decade ago after leaving a career in finance. He describes what he does as “addressing the world’s big social problems,” global heath, climate change and poverty, through his writing and podcasts.
Last year, Thorpe, then a contributor to Forbes magazine and host of the “Your Mark on the World” podcast, named for his bestselling book offering “stories of service that show us how to give more with a purpose without giving up what’s most important,” interviewed Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates.
“I was thrilled,” Thorpe said. “I kind of sat back and waited for the world to change. I thought, boy, that will change the world. We were talking about polio eradication. Maybe I was naive. As I sat back and watched how little reaction there was, I felt like I needed to be doing something different, new, better to change the world.”
Ultimately, he concluded he should run for Congress and decided the 3rd District was his best shot. Congressional candidates don’t have to live in the districts, but Thorpe, a Salt Lake City resident, said he has “deep roots” there. He easily won the Democratic nomination at the party’s state convention.
Thorpe said he felt Curtis needed a serious challenger because his “voting record is not consistent with his moderate image that he cultivates so carefully.” He said he feels the congressman “is a prisoner of his party. It’s not because he’s a bad guy or because Republicans are bad” but due to expectations of party loyalty.
According to FiveThirtyEight, a website that analyzes political data, Curtis votes with GOP President Donald Trump 95.2% of the time, just shy of the tally for Utah’s other Republicans in Congress, Rep. Chris Stewart, 95.4%, and Rep. Rob Bishop, 95.3%. The state’s sole Democrat in Congress. Rep. Ben McAdams, came in at 20.2%.
During their debate, Thorpe said Curtis has voted against environmental legislation. But Curtis said Thorpe was talking about “message bills” from Democrats that had little, if any, GOP support in the Democratic-controlled House and were intended only to make a statement.
Thorpe said if elected, he would work on getting carbon fee and dividend legislation passed that taxes fossil fuels and then distributes that money to citizens. He said he believes “passionately” in bipartisanship, but doesn’t “want to mislead anyone, I’m a Democrat for a reason so I will vote with the Democrats a lot of times.”
Other candidates on the ballot in the 3rd Congressional District are the United Utah Party’s Thomas McNeill and the Constitution Party’s Daniel Clyde Cummings, and unaffiliated write-in candidates Trey Robinson and Jeremy Lewis Friedbaum, who filed as JLF.