3rd Congressional District campaign interesting but not close

Published: Monday, Oct. 25 2010 10:00 p.m. MDT

Jason Chaffetz, left

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Recent poll results show the race for Utah's 3rd Congressional District is not a nail-biter.

But there are some points of intrigue such as the political party changes among both major candidates.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a first-term Republican, had strong personal and family roots as a Democrat before switching parties in 1990. He then ran Republican Jon Huntsman Jr.'s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2004 and then was Huntsman's chief of staff for a short time before defeating Chris Cannon in a primary, which effectively served as the final election in 2008.

Democratic Party challenger Karen Hyer is a lifelong Republican — recruited by the Democratic Party in Utah County to run on their ticket in one of the reddest congressional districts in the nation. She said the Democratic Party promised she would not have to change anything about her conservative political construct as a candidate.

So while the Deseret News/KSL-TV poll of 201 active voters in the district shows 67 percent favor Chaffetz, Hyer said she is hoping to draw Election Day support from Democrats who feel disenfranchised because of their party affiliation in an overwhelmingly Republican district and state. She said she also hopes to draw votes from Republicans who feel disenfranchised by a GOP that moved so far from center it "has become more of an ideology."

The district includes all but the northeastern corner of Utah County, western Salt Lake County, Sanpete, Sevier, Beaver, Millard and eastern Juab counties.

There are three additional candidates in the 3rd District race: Libertarian Party candidate Jake Shannon, Constitution Party candidate Douglas Sligting and independent candidate Joseph L. Puente. The poll, conducted Oct. 11-14, showed the independent and minor-party candidates had voter support at 1 percent or less. The poll had roughly a 7-percent margin of error.

Chaffetz, who has an affinity for Twitter and other social media, has skillfully kept his name in the headlines during his first term, which began with national attention over his decision to sleep in a cot in his office rather than rent or buy housing in Washington. While eager to comment on any issue, his most high profile cause has been battle over full-body security scanners at airports. He says they are an invasion of privacy and is pushing legislation to ban them.

He most recently made headlines over a recent hostile exchange with the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, over whether Chaffetz agreed he would not challenge Utah's senior senator in 2012.

Hyer hopes voters will realize the senate issue is distracting Chaffetz' attention from his current House seat. But Chaffetz said on Friday he's focused on the current election. "I serve at the will of the voters. We'll make that assessment well over 14 months from now. Elections are long enough. We don't need to start running the 2012 election."

At a debate in Provo on Friday, Hyer also was critical of the cot Chaffetz sleeps on in his D.C. office. It has become a trademark for the freshman representative. Videos on his House website are referred to as "Cot-Side Chats."

"You're mooching off the public" by sleeping in the congressional office, she said. "You don't have to sleep on a cot. That is a stunt for the media. It's embarrassing." She went on to speculate the congressmen might be "violating zoning laws sleeping in a public place."

Asked later whether being known as the congressman who sleeps on a cot had run its course, Chaffetz said he has no plans to change his arrangement and was caught off guard when Hyer called him a mooch because of it. "The cot is symbolic to me too that I don't want to get too comfortable in Washington, D.C. I think she's missing the whole point." Chaffetz said he typically is in Washington overnight two to four nights a week. "The trick is to be tired enough when you lay down."

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