PROVO — Only Republican John Curtis and Democrat Kathie Allen will participate in the Utah Debate Commission's 3rd Congressional District debate in October.
Jim Bennett, the new United Utah Party's candidate, failed by less than a half of a percent in a poll done for the commission to meet the threshold for being invited to the Oct. 18 debate at the KBYU studios on the BYU campus.
"I was close, and that to some degree makes it harder," said Bennett, the son of late Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett. "It's such a tiny margin, of course it's frustrating. But we're also pleased we came so close."
No third-party candidate has met the commission's threshold since it was created in February 2014. Bennett said he will participate in at least three other candidate events, including a Rotary Club debate Oct. 31.
"The reality is we’re going to be out there meeting with Utah voters and campaigning as hard as we know how. That was going to be the case regardless of whether we were in this debate or not," Bennett said.
Curtis, the mayor of Provo, topped the eight candidates in the race to fill the vacancy left earlier this year by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, with 50.17 percent in the poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.
"These results are great news. It's clear John's hard work and message of getting things done for Utah are resonating across the district," Curtis spokesman Danny Laub said.
But he also said Curtis "will continue to work hard for every vote because the only poll that matters is on Election Day."
Allen, a Cottonwood Heights physician, came in second with 19.82 percent. Her campaign expressed disappointment that Bennett was excluded.
"We believe that he brings a unique perspective to this race that deserves to be heard, and we were looking forward to debating with him," Allen spokesman Daniel Friend said.
He also said Curtis was "historically weak" for a Republican candidate and that there are enough undecided voters to determine the outcome of the election.
Bennett was third in the poll, with 5.59 percent. The threshold for participation is 10 percent, minus the margin of error.
A total of 607 registered voters in the 3rd District were polled Aug. 30-Sept. 8, and the results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percent. That meant candidates needed the support of at least 6.02 percent of those polled.
Bennett's campaign manager, Tim Fullmer, said in a news release the sample size of the poll was higher than in the past, reducing the margin of error and making the threshold tougher to cross.
The only other candidate who polled higher than 1 percent was Libertarian Joe Buchman, at 2.78 percent. Nearly 18 percent of those polled said they didn't know who they support in the race.
The winner of the special election will fill the remaining year of Chaffetz's term.
Chaffetz stepped down June 30 and is now a Fox News contributor.
The 3rd District includes portions of Utah and Salt Lake counties, as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.