SALT LAKE CITY — Candidates crowded into the race to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, with 15 Republicans, four Democrats, two Independent American Party members and one Libertarian signing up to run by Friday's 5 p.m. filing deadline.
"It's going to be a really whirlwind couple of weeks here in the 3rd District," said Jessica Preece, a BYU political science professor, at least through the June party delegate votes.
There could end up being even more names on the ballot for voters to choose from because unaffiliated candidates — those not running as a member of a political party — have until June 12 to file with the state Elections Office.
One of the unaffiliated candidates may be Jim Bennett, the executive director of the newly formed United Utah Party, made up of Republicans and Democrats who feel their parties no longer represent them.
Bennett attempted to file just before the deadline as a member of the just-announced party, but because the lieutenant governor's office has yet to verify the required voter signatures and paperwork involved, his filing will be returned.
Bennett, whose father was Sen. Bob Bennett, said late Friday he intends to challenge the decision not to let him file provisionally under the new party designation. He said he would file as an unaffiliated candidate only as a last resort.
After dealing with the last-minute rush of candidates, state Elections Director Mark Thomas said he'll have to check whether there's ever been more candidates seeking a single office in Utah.
"We'll have to look to see if that's a record number. It seems like a lot," he said of the 22 candidates, especially since some of his staff had already taken the day off for the holiday weekend.
""I think everyone's tired," he said. "Not just today, but the last couple of weeks, trying to get this up and running."
Chaffetz announced in April he would not seek re-election in 2018 but didn't confirm until a week ago that he intended to step down before his term ends for a private sector position, believed to be with Fox News. His last day is June 30.
Even before it was clear the congressman wouldn't finish out his fifth term, planning began for a special election since the state hasn't had to deal with a congressional vacancy since Rep. Elmer Leatherwood, R-Utah, died in office in 1929.
With no process spelled out in state law, legislative leaders tried unsuccessfully to get Gov. Gary Herbert to call them into a special session to consider a Republican proposal leaving it up to political parties to nominate candidates.
Herbert, however, asserted he has the authority to not only call a special election to fill a congressional vacancy, but also set the process that will be overseen by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who serves as the state's top elections official.
Filing for the 3rd District seat that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan, and Wasatch counties, started May 19, the same day Cox laid out the new process.
Candidates had to declare when filing whether or not they would gather voter signatures to guarantee a spot on the primary election ballot, a recently created alternative to the caucus and convention nomination system.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties are holding conventions of 3rd District delegates on June 17 to select nominees under that system. Candidates who opted to gather voter signatures can also compete at their party's convention.
Those candidates who gather the required 7,000 signatures from registered voters as well as those nominated by delegates at their party's convention will appear on the ballot for the Aug. 15 primary election, the same day as municipal primaries.
The primary winners, along with the unaffiliated candidates who gather at least 300 voter signatures, will be on the general election ballot in November. Whoever voters choose then will be seated by the U.S. House for a term that ends Dec. 31, 2018.
Preece said the shortened timeline means "candidates are going to have to work very fast." She said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, and Provo Mayor John Curtis, also a Republican, both have advantages going into the race.
Henderson's connection to Chaffetz as his former campaign manager will help her with delegates, Preece said, while Curtis is a well-liked mayor of the state's third-largest city who is gathering voter signatures and competing at convention.
She said Tanner Ainge, whose father Danny Ainge was a star player on the BYU basketball team and now manages the Boston Celtics, will be helped by a name "that goes far, especially in BYU fandom."
But political connections may matter more than name recognition, Preece said. "It's not nothing, but if I had to place my money, I'd place it on people who are sort of embedded in the community networks."