SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Rep. John Curtis will return to Congress as his Democratic opponent, Devin Thorpe, conceded the 3rd Congressional District race Tuesday night.

Curtis had 68% of votes in early returns, while Thorpe had received 28% of the nearly 222,000 votes counted as of 10 p.m. Tuesday.

“We did expect to do better, so it will be interesting to break down where we were misreading the tea leaves,” Thorpe said. “We recognize that it is a very red district; this is one of the reddest districts in the country. When I got into the race, though, I got in it with the plan to win.”

He said he hopes the margin between himself and Curtis narrows as the rest of the votes are counted.

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Curtis has served as the U.S. representative for the district since winning the seat in a special election three years ago. Prior to joining Congress, he was Provo’s mayor from 2010 to 2017.

“This is actually my third election in three years, so I’m ready for two years without an election,” he said after the first round of votes was tallied.

Curtis said he is looking forward to the next two years and that combatting COVID-19 is his top priority.

“Head down, hard work — that’s the only way I know how to do it,” he said of his next term. “Mission No. 1 right now is getting past COVID, helping my individuals and particularly small businesses navigate this.”

He said he would like to see another round of stimulus that is more focused on people who most need help.

Democrat Devin Thorpe, a candidate for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, left, and Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, right, pictured in this composite photo, participate in an October debate at the Triad Center in Salt Lake City, Oct. 15, 2020. | Leah Hogsten

“There are people still hurting, and I’d like to see us address that,” he said.

Thorpe is an author and podcaster who resides outside of the 3rd District, which encompasses much of southeastern Utah and parts of Salt Lake and Utah counties. The Salt Lake City resident registered as a Democrat earlier this year and formerly served as an aide to then U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah.

Interestingly, both candidates have switched between the two major parties. Curtis, formerly a Democrat, said he finds Republican values, especially fiscal conservatism, to better align with his personal ideology.

Thorpe said that while his “values haven’t changed,” he believes Democrats often come to better solutions than members of the Republican Party.

While he has conceded his race, Thorpe still has hope that other Democratic nominees, both in Utah and nationally, will prevail in their races.

“Disappointing results for us tonight, certainly, but I remain optimistic that the presidential race will be a blue outcome nationally, and that’s really one of the key reasons I got in the race,” he said. “I just felt like it was something I could do to expand my voice and influence ... to change the outcome in the presidential situation, and I’m optimistic that that will happen.”

He said he was disappointed in the results but respected Curtis’ race and his efforts to help residents of the 3rd District.

“John Curtis ran a good race,” he said. “John and I disagree on many things, but we agree on many things. And it’s clear that he is a very hardworking congressman.”

In their debate leading up to Election Day, the candidates clashed on issues such as health care and Curtis’ voting record on climate change legislation.

Curtis said he did not believe the Affordable Care Act would be repealed, and he would only vote to do so if a replacement was set up beforehand.

The two candidates verbally sparred after Thorpe claimed that Curtis had previously voted to allow those with preexisting health conditions to not be covered.

Curtis said the idea that he and other Republicans want to deprive health care from those with preexisting conditions was “an absolute fabrication and lie.”

On environmental issues, Curtis claimed he is one of the few Republicans who has pushed for measures to combat climate change.

“I’ve tried really hard to be a conservative voice on the environment,” Curtis said during the debate on Oct. 15.

However, Thorpe challenged his voting record on the issue, saying “actions speak louder than words.”

Thorpe said the congressman had never voted for a bill designed to reduce carbon emissions and had repeatedly supported bills that would further the use of fossil fuels.