SALT LAKE CITY — First-time candidate Chris Stewart said he's running for Congress for the same reason he went into the Air Force.
"I just reached a point where I thought I've got to do something," said Stewart, who served as a pilot in the Air Force for 14 years. "I just thought I had to get in there and join the fight."
The Farmington father of six, now an author and the head of a government consulting firm, is among the Republicans vying for the 2nd District seat now held by the state's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson.
Matheson has not ruled out running for re-election in his district but is also considering a bid for the state's new 4th District seat as well as a challenge to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
Stewart, 51, said that while he has "a lot of respect for Rep. Matheson," a Republican would better reflect the values of voters in the re-drawn district that now includes portions of conservative Davis County.
"I think this district is more fairly represented by a Republican," he said, predicting "a long hard fight. There are other good candidates in the race" for the GOP nomination.
Republicans in the race include former U.S. Senate candidate Cherilyn Eager, former Pentagon official Chuck Williams, and Park City resident Howard Wallack. Several others are eyeing the seat, including Morgan Philpot, who narrowly lost to Matheson in 2010, and state Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara.
State GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said the party's top priority in 2012 is defeating Matheson. He said the 2nd District race will likely be the most competitive in the state.
"It's not a lay-down district for us. We have to be competitive to win," Wright said. "I think there will be a lot of good choices."
Stewart said he feels good about his chances. He said he has "a network of people, primarily through some of my writing. They know me and they know what I believe. It resonates with them."
His most recent book, "The Miracle of Freedom, Seven Tipping Points That Saved The World," written with his brother, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart, was endorsed by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and became a bestseller.
He said readers are responding to his message of American exceptionalism. "We still have a special role in the world's future," Stewart said, even though the country still faces challenges.
"We can fix this," he said. "We can have great days ahead of us still."
Stewart said his military background, which included setting a record for the fastest nonstop flight around the world, is key to his campaign.
"I just want to remind people that's one of the fundamental things our national government is supposed to do, provide for our national defense," he said, warning that proposed defense cuts go too far.
"If I go back to Washington, I'm not going to let people take their eye off the ball on our national security," Stewart said.