A free-for-all was declared in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District when incumbent Rep. John Curtis made his Senate ambitions official on Jan. 2.

Prospective candidates had less than a week to decide whether to enter the race for Curtis’ open seat in an area that leans heavily red. If they jumped in, Republican hopefuls would have less than four months to court the district’s 1,100 GOP delegates and gather at least 7,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot.

For Kathryn Dahlin, the mother of four school-aged children, the decision to run for Congress meant a drastic change of pace for her and her family.

“I’m not sure I slept for the two weeks after I announced,” Dahlin said.

The overwhelming task of getting on June’s primary ballot is a “more than full-time” job, Dahlin said, though she still blocks off time in the evening to sing her kids to sleep.

Dahlin, who formerly worked as a legislative assistant to Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, has had to climb a steep learning curve as she navigates Utah’s parallel party nomination processes. In addition to sacrificing time and money to collect signatures, she has learned firsthand that Utah elections require nonstop travel to win the support of neighborhood representatives ahead of the Republican caucus convention on April 27.

Like each of the nine Republicans in the race, Dahlin hopes to cut through the chaos of election season and differentiate herself from the rest of the pack. But this is easier said than done, with most candidates emphasizing the national debt and immigration while delegates seem most interested in which candidates have chosen the convention-only path to nomination.

Who’s running for John Curtis’ seat?

In Utah, candidates have the choice to seek their party’s nomination by gathering signatures to qualify for the primary ballot or by relying on the state delegate convention on April 27, where a candidate must win at least 40% of delegates’ support to advance to the primary election on June 25.

Dahlin, who said she is on track to submit 7,000 signatures before the April 13 deadline, is one of six candidates who have opted to gather signatures.

  • Sky Zone founder Case Lawrence was the first to submit his signatures and has already qualified for the primary ballot. He used a signature-gathering service to do so, he said.
  • Utah state auditor John “Frugal” Dougall was the second to submit his signatures and is still waiting for them to be verified by the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office. He also used a signature-gathering service but said he personally gathered around 500 signatures.
  • Roosevelt Mayor JR Bird also submitted a package of more than 7,000 signatures and is waiting for verification. His wife collected about 10% of the signatures, he said. The remaining signatures were gathered by paid volunteers who were mostly college students.
  • Former Utah County GOP Chair Stewart Peay is nearing 7,000 signatures and will submit them shortly. Around 60% were gathered by a hired firm and 40% by grassroots volunteers, Peay said.
  • Former National Guardsman Lucky Bovo said he will not make an attempt to gather signatures. He also said he will not engage in delegate outreach before the April convention.

Lawrence, who teaches entrepreneurship at Brigham Young University’s business school, said signature-gathering is a “micro piece of democracy” that allows candidates to get their message out to an initial group of Republican primary voters.

Now that he’s qualified for the primary, Lawrence said he can focus all his efforts on getting to know the delegates.

“As a political outsider, I think it’s important to engage every aspect of the Utah electoral process,” he said.

There are three candidates who have placed their congressional hopes entirely in the state convention.

  • Former state Rep. Chris Herrod came in first place in the 3rd District delegate nomination at the state convention in 2017 and 2022, and came in second in 2018. But he lost to Curtis in the primary election each time.
  • State Sen. Mike Kennedy won at state convention in 2018 when he ran against Sen. Mitt Romney. Romney later defeated Kennedy in the primary.
  • Utah Young Republicans state chair Zac Wilson said without the delegate system, the barriers to entry for the primary would be too high.

Utah’s unique delegate system encourages candidates to speak one-on-one with as many local party officers as possible during county GOP fundraising dinners, “cottage meetings” with small groups of delegates, town halls, and through many, many phone calls.

“I am vetted thoroughly by these people,” Kennedy said, noting he occasionally spends 20-30 minutes on the phone with a single delegate to answer all their questions. “So they know me, I think, better than an average primary voter would know me.”

We asked: What makes you unique as a candidate?

Republican state delegates — elected or reelected in Super Tuesday’s caucus meetings — are now facing a flood of messages from 3rd District candidates trying to stand out.

The Deseret News asked the candidates what they believe makes them unique. Here are their answers:

As the only mother in the race, Dahlin said her candidacy satisfies a desire for a different kind of politician, one who reflects a family-centric constituency and understands the importance of making a responsible budget like most Utah families have to do.

“Utahns are telling me that that’s the kind of leader they want to see in Congress,” Dahlin said.

Dougall says his record as a state legislator for over 10 years and as state auditor for another decade prove that if voters care about fiscal issues, he is their guy. Problems with inflation, border security and a strong military all come down to how Congress spends its money, he said.

“I have a unique skill set when it comes to solving the fiscal problems in Washington, D.C. That’s my bread and butter,” Dougall said.

At 29, Wilson is the race’s youngest contender. But he says what he lacks in age, he makes up for in economic know-how with a background in finance and private equity.

“Inflation rates, Federal Reserve, this is like my second language,” he said.

Wilson believes his youth makes him the perfect fit for the youngest district in the youngest state in the nation

As a former CEO, Lawrence said his ability to problem-solve his way out of multiple economic crises makes him perfectly suited for the nation’s current fiscal free-fall. But beyond balancing budget sheets, Lawrence said what really sets him apart is his message of optimism.

“We can restore the American dream by pursuing conservative principles,” Lawrence said, making specific reference to the principles of “bringing order” to border security and federal spending.

According to Bird, “Elections are not a popularity contest. They’re a job interview.” A resume that includes running a rural Utah town, being an agricultural producer and founding a hardware company has given him a broad understanding of the issues affecting the 3rd District, which encompasses the oil-rich Uinta Basin, coal mining country and a uranium processing plant.

“There’s no other candidate that has that diverse and unique experience: public lands, water, energy, business,” Bird said.

On issues of foreign policy, Peay said his background as an Iraq veteran in military intelligence makes him the most qualified. The U.S. should continue to assist its allies abroad, including Ukraine, to deter future aggression from China, Peay said. And on the domestic front, Peay said Republicans need to show they can actually govern to get things done.

“I work with people who disagree with me every day,” said Peay, a commercial litigator. “And what I have to do is identify who I can work with, how I can work with them and solve problems, which is the skill set that is required to succeed in Washington, D.C., and required to move our country forward.”

Bovo also served multiple years in Iraq. Previously a member of the Libertarian Party, he said his campaign is centered around a policy initiative that would prevent National Guardsmen from being deployed oversees unless Congress signs a declaration of war.

While nearly every candidate has a platform of increasing security at the southern border, Herrod said he has an actual record of cracking down on immigration as a state legislator. He hopes supporters from previous convention runs are enough to carry him to the primary where he can win a plurality of the vote.

“One of the things that people will use against me is that I’ve run before, but it’s very different to run for an open seat versus an incumbent,” he said.

Kennedy is the only current state legislator. His Utah Senate seat covers roughly 20% of the 3rd District population. He has worked in the area as a family physician for more than 20 years.

“I appreciate my opponents, they’re patriotic, good people trying to do the right things,” Kennedy said. “But I also think there are distinctions in this race that would suggest that I’m the best option of the candidates.”

The winner(s) of April’s state convention will appear on the ballot in a vote-by-mail primary election on June 25 along with those who successfully gathered 7,000 verified signatures.

On Nov. 5, the Republican nominee will face off against Democratic candidate Glenn Wright. An Air Force veteran and former member of the Summit County Council, Wright ran against Curtis in 2022 and lost.

No third-party candidates registered for the 3rd Congressional District race.