Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
FILE - Tanner Ainge speaks in the Republican debate for the 3rd Congressional District race at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo on Friday, July 28, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Thursday endorsed Tanner Ainge in the GOP primary race for the 3rd Congressional District seat that had been held by Jason Chaffetz.

In a statement released by Ainge's campaign Thursday, Palin said, "Impressively, Ainge isn't a career politician! This fiscally conservative candidate is a sharp businessman who understands what makes companies grow, excel and thrive."

Palin, who was Arizona Sen. John McCain's running mate on the 2008 Republican presidential ticket, also referred to the first-time candidate as a patriot who "exudes common sense" and a strong supporter of states' rights.

The former Alaska governor also used a basketball analogy to describe Ainge, saying he "will be an impactful leader because he knows how to run the ball down the court with focus and purpose, and not waste time playing today's political games."

Ainge is the son of former BYU basketball star Danny Ainge, now the general manager of the Boston Celtics, who has been in the news for signing Utah Jazz All-Star player Gordon Hayward.

Tanner Ainge said he was honored to have Palin's endorsement.

"She recognizes if we are going to get serious about cutting spending, curbing regulations and balancing the budget, we have to have someone in Washington who can actually get these things accomplished," Ainge said.

The other candidates in the Aug. 15 Republican primary are Provo Mayor John Curtis and former state lawmaker Chris Herrod. Polls have shown both Ainge and Herrod trailing Curtis.

Gov. Gary Herbert has endorsed Curtis, and the winner of the Utah GOP's 2016 presidential caucus vote, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, campaigned for Herrod in Lehi last weekend.

Also Thursday, Curtis launched a humorous social media campaign mocking what he called the "junk" that super PACs backing Ainge and Herrod are sending to voters. Curtis suggests on YouTube using the mailers for mulch, car mats or target practice.

Curtis demonstrates those uses in the video, including by firing a pistol repeatedly at several mailers at a shooting range, and then asks voters to send him other ideas using the hashtag, #DontDCmyUtah.

Chaffetz resigned from Congress June 30 and is now a contributor to Fox News.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Kathie Allen, a Cottonwood Heights physician; new United Utah Party candidate Jim Bennett; and several others in November's special election.