SALT LAKE CITY — With so much money being poured into the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary race, it may seem like the special election to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz will wrap up with next Tuesday's vote.
But despite nearly $800,000 in spending so far by outside groups, all that's being decided is whether Provo Mayor John Curtis, former state lawmaker Chris Herrod or Alpine lawyer Tanner Ainge will be on the November ballot.
The candidates who already have qualified for the general election, including Democrat Kathie Allen and the new United Utah Party's Jim Bennett, haven't been getting much attention in the race.
Allen, a Cottonwood Heights physician, said she scheduled the first in a series of town hall meetings on health care Wednesday night to help set a positive tone for the race.
"I would like to start talking about solutions and not character assassination, as I have observed the Republicans doing amongst themselves," Allen said, describing behavior that she believes could help her campaign.
"It's not going to affect my voters because they're turned off by it," Allen said. "I think it might increase interest in our campaign because we haven't gone there. We haven't attacked anybody."
Bennett, the son of the late Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett, said he doesn't know what to expect in the general election from the so-called super PACs that have flooded mailboxes and the airwaves with largely negative ads in the Republican primary.
"I'll know that I have arrived if the Club for Growth spends millions of dollars to beat up on me," Bennett said, referring to a Washington, D.C., free enterprise group now running ads backing Herrod and opposing Curtis and Ainge.
Bennett said that in 2010, Club for Growth put more than $1 million into defeating his father's re-election bid at the state GOP convention. In this year's GOP 3rd District primary, he said super PACs once again "want to be kingmakers" in Utah.
"They like the fact that that candidate will now owe them something," Bennett said. "They're not interested in Utah at all. They're only interested in advancing the reputation of their super PAC. And that's what I think Utah voters can see through."
He gained access to the ballot just a week ago, after the newly formed party took the state to court and won. Bennett said his pitch to voters is problem-solving, "not slinging mud" at his opponents.
"There's zero chance I'm going to spend time insulting them as people," Bennett said. "But I am going to pull no punches when it comes to attacking bad policies."
Allen took to the liberal Daily Kos website this week to ask for help raising $1 million for what she said will be a three-way race in the general election between herself, Bennett and the GOP nominee.
The Republicans in the primary, Allen said in the post, all "were throwing verbal insults at each other" during Monday's KSL Newsradio debate and national political action committees are funding negative campaigning.
"It has all become quite squalid," Allen wrote.
Before Chaffetz announced he was not seeking re-election in 2018 and later, that he would not finish his term, Allen had raised more than $500,000 through a crowdfunding effort with help from comedian Rosie O'Donnell and other celebrities.
Allen drew their attention with a tweet about voters having a choice, in response to a Chaffetz statement that Americans should invest in health care rather than buying a "new iPhone that they just love."
In her post, she said her campaign now needs financial help because it has been overlooked by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other national party resources.
Drew Godinich, a spokesman for that committee, told the Deseret News there may be at least limited assistance available to Allen.
“If a candidate is willing to work with the DCCC and put together a team to execute a path to victory, the committee provides strategic guidance and baseline resources to get candidates off the ground, at a minimum,” Godinich said.
BYU political science professor David Magleby said the super PACs are putting money into the primary in the special congressional election because the seat is likely to stay Republican.
"This is a one-party state," Magleby said. "They know whoever wins this primary is likely to be a congressman for a decade or more."5 comments on this story
Besides Allen and Bennett, the other candidates already on the general election ballot are Libertarian Joe Buchman, Independent American Jason Christensen, write-in candidate Russell Paul Roesler and unaffiliated candidate Sean Whalen.
The 3rd District, one of the most Republican in the country, includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties, as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.
The district has not been represented in Congress since June 30, when Chaffetz, now a Fox News contributor, stepped down.