SALT LAKE CITY — Three-term Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Democratic political newcomer Brian Wonnacott will debate for the first time Tuesday night in their race to represent Utah's 3rd Congressional District.
The forum is the fourth this year organized by the Utah Debate Commission, a new group that's working to guarantee election-year debates for every statewide and federal race.
The commission says that in past election years, debates had been sporadic and some races didn't have any at all.
Wonnacott lags far behind the GOP incumbent in fundraising, experience and recognition. But the 6 p.m. discussion at Utah Valley University in Orem will air live on local television and radio stations, providing "a forum where all candidates have access to televised media in prime time," said Matt Lyon, the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.
"I don't think Brian Wonnacott would have gotten an opportunity to speak to the state at the same level had it not been for the debate commission," Lyon said.
Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said the debate commission allows candidates, particularly Democrats in GOP-heavy Utah, to reach more viewers and voters at a single event.
"These formats always elevate the challenger. We recognize that," Evans said. "But I don't necessarily have a problem with that because I believe we have superior candidates on the Republican side."
Chaffetz is the chairman of the national security subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He has led a high-profile investigation into a Sept. 19 security breach at the White House where a man with a knife climbed the fence and made it inside the building.
Chaffetz's role heading up the national security subcommittee has positioned him to be one of the leading candidates to chair the full House oversight committee next year.
He is also a media-savvy congressman, making regular appearances on cable news networks.
Wonnacott, a software engineer from Holladay, is a relative unknown and has barely raised any money for his campaign.
During the most recent reporting period, Wonnacott's only contribution was $209 he gave to his own campaign.
He spent a little, leaving him with $160.
During the same April through June fundraising period, Chaffetz raised about $178,000. He spent a little more than $100,000, leaving him with about $256,000.
New fundraising reports are due next week.
In an interview last week, Wonnacott told KSL-TV that that he was in the process of hiring a campaign managers and posting campaign signs.
Besides Wonnacott and Chaffetz, several third-party and unaffiliated candidates are also running for the seat.
The 3rd Congressional District stretches from the southeast suburbs of Salt Lake City to the Arizona and Colorado borders.