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."
Chaffetz and Hyer agree the top issues on the national agenda are the top issues to constituents in the 3rd Congressional District. They say repairing the country's economy is their top concern. Both have plenty to say about immigration issues and health care reform.
"The 3rd Congressional District is the youngest district in the nation. The economy is so critical. The federal government continues to get in the way and make more difficult, not better," Chaffetz said. "The issues with the 3rd District parallel national issues: the national debt, immigration and the sheer size and growth of government."
Hyer has a similar observation of the overlap in national and local issues. "Our middle class here — a lot of these folks are out of work," she said. "So one of the things I would want to concentrate on is getting more industries here and growing them right here."
Immigration is another national issue that is of great interest in Utah. "To say that all we need to do is enforce our current (immigration) laws is disingenuous," Hyer said. "And it's harsh, irresponsible rhetoric to suggest we round up illegal immigrants and detain them in concentration camp-like tent cities surrounded by barbed wire." She supports the development of a "smart, workable temporary work permit system" that does not expand government welfare. She also supports a pathway to legal status for immigrants that does not equate to amnesty.
Chaffetz also rejects amnesty proposals and wants to see a border lock down and visa enforcement. He wants to get rid of rewards and incentives to be in the country illegally and insists on assimilation. "Our first priority should be to legal citizens, and then we should prioritize those who want to come here legally," Chaffetz says in his KSL candidate questionnaire response. "Our current system is failing by giving those with closest proximity and a willingness to break our laws favor over those who are willing to enter the country legally."
Regarding health-care reform, Chaffetz says he opposes the Affordable Care Act. "We should take a market-based approach to fixing the country's health care problems. I favor solutions such as insurance portability, free-market competition and transparency. I will work to repeal Obama Care."
Hyer said she also opposes the Affordable Care Act, believing the act does not solve the ever-escalating costs of health care. "This needs to be done in an innovative manner, not by imposing mandates, growing government-sponsored health care, and increasing taxes or premiums." She supports insurance portability and Medicare and Medicaid reform to reduce waste, fraud and abuse. "We need real litigation reform, and we need to provide greater incentives for first-line health care clinics and hospitals to service those with low income or no income."
Education: Brigham Young University, bachelor's in communications
Professional experience: Corporate marketing and communications; former campaign manager and chief of staff to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Political background: Republican, former Democrat; incumbent 3rd District representative
Family: Married, three children
Campaign website: www.jasonforcongress.com
Deseret News candidate questionnaire responses: deseretnews.com/election/candidate/2/496/Jason-Chaffetz.html
Education: Stanford University, doctorate in educational psychology; Lewis & Clark College, law degree
Professional experience: University professor, former medical researcher and rancher
Political background: Republican running on the Democratic ticket
Family: Married, three children; also a grandmother and great-grandmother
Campaign website: hyerforcongress.com
Deseret News candidate questionnaire responses: deseretnews.com/election/candidate/2/631/Karen-Hyer.html
Education: Golden Gate University, master's in financial engineering; University of Colorado, Boulder, bachelor's in English
Professional experience: Author, entrepreneur, hypnotist, quantitative analyst
Political background: Libertarian Party
Family: Married, two children
Campaign website: www.jakeshannonforcongress.com
Deseret News candidate questionnaire responses: deseretnews.com/election/candidate/2/633/Jake-Shannon.html
Education: University of Utah, bachelor's in fine arts
Professional experience: President and CEO of Dental Branding
Political background: Constitution Party
Family: Married, five children
Campaign website: www.douglasforcongress.com
Deseret News candidate questionnaire responses: deseretnews.com/election/candidate/2/634/Douglas-Sligting.html
Joseph L. Puente
Education: Attended Weber State University, New Hampshire College, Snow College
Professional experience: Writer, actor and filmmaker; founder, Utah FilmWorks; Navy veteran
Political background: Independent6 comments on this story
Campaign website: www.joepuente.org
Deseret News candidate questionnaire responses: deseretnews.com/election/candidate/2/632/Joseph-L-Puente.html