PROVO — John Curtis may be serving in Congress as soon as Monday after his win in the special election to fill the 3rd Congressional District seat vacated earlier this year by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
"We did it. Thank you," the Republican Provo mayor said to cheers from supporters gathered in a ballroom at the Provo Marriott less than an hour after the polls in the special election closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Curtis promised to work "as hard as possible" every day in Congress "because that's what Utahns do. We disagree about specific policies, but mostly we agree about those things that really matter the most."
The newest member of Utah's congressional delegation, who will be up for re-election in 2018, went through a list of 10 pledges, including dealing with "big problems and not petty squabbles" by not becoming a politician.
"I'll make hard decisions. I'll put Utah principles above politics and, yes, even party," Curtis, who years ago briefly headed the Utah County Democratic Party and even ran as a Democrat, said to whistles and applause.
He also pledged to "serve the underrepresented."
"That means spending more time in rural Utah," Curtis said. "It means if you’re not white, Mormon and male, I am still here for you. It means children — the unborn, the abused and the disadvantaged. Not all people in our district feel represented.
"If you’re in that crowd, I want to fight for you, to be your advocate. It’s not all about passing laws and government solutions. It’s about giving everyone a voice and letting them be represented," he said.
Curtis had received concession calls from the Democrat in the race, Cottonwood Heights physician Kathie Allen, and the United Utah Party's Jim Bennett within an hour after the polls closed.
Allen said she asked Curtis during the call "to please have the courage to stand up to (President) Donald Trump when needed. He said I could hold him to that."
But Allen said she believes Curtis is going to be "a rubber stamp to the GOP agenda."
Curtis did not take questions from the media after his speech.
The race was projected to be a victory for Curtis by NBC News, CNN and the Associated Press. Besides Allen and Bennett, there were five other candidates running for the final year of Chaffetz's term.
Shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m., Curtis had a big lead with more than 59 percent of the vote, followed by Allen with just over 25 percent and Bennett at a little more than 9 percent. The votes were from Salt Lake and Utah counties.
The district includes parts of Utah and Salt Lake counties, as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties, and has not been represented in Congress since June 30, when Chaffetz, now a Fox News contributor, resigned.
Curtis could be sworn in as Utah's newest member of Congress on Monday, even though the results of the election won't be final until the Nov. 28 State Board of Canvassers certify the numbers.
"We've been told to be ready and to have him in Washington, D.C., by the weekend," Curtis' campaign manager, Danny Laub, told the Deseret News.
That means Curtis will have to step down as Provo mayor before his term is over.
The lieutenant governor said he will wait until the next update of results comes in on Thursday before conferring with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., about whether there's any chance Curtis won't be the official winner when the canvass is done.
"Just looking at the levels that are there tonight, we are 100 percent confident right now," said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees elections. "Statistically, any change would be virtually impossible and so we don’t think there will be any hiccups."
He said the House has sworn in other members based on unofficial results.
House leaders are anxious to have another Republican vote for the proposed tax overhaul supported by the party and Trump that is expected to come up for a vote soon.
Curtis, whose professional life began as a watch salesman while he was attending Brigham Young University, was elected twice as mayor of the district's largest city and had already decided not to seek another term when Chaffetz's seat opened up.
Curtis had to survive an Aug. 15 GOP primary where nearly $1 million was spent by outside groups on negative advertising largely aimed at him. Curtis defeated two candidates who ran as more conservative choices, former state lawmaker Chris Herrod, the choice of Republican delegates at the party's convention, and Alpine attorney Tanner Ainge.
In a congressional district considered one of the most Republican in the country, polls showed Curtis held a strong lead throughout the general election, but Allen outraised and outspent him.
Allen had gotten into the race in February, before Chaffetz, well-known nationally as the head of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced he was stepping down.
Money poured into Allen's campaign after her tweet slamming Chaffetz for suggesting Americans choose health care over the latest iPhone went viral with the help of celebrities, including comedian Rosie O'Donnell and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
Her campaign emphasized her decades of experience as a family doctor and interest in health care issues. But Allen's support for universal health care, which she liked to call Medicare for all, never caught on with voters.
Bennett was the first third-party candidate to poll high enough to qualify to participate in a Utah Debate Commission debate, but had to take the state to court to get on the ballot as a candidate for the newly formed United Utah Party.37 comments on this story
The son of late Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, he used the campaign to draw attention to the new party made up of disaffected Republicans like himself and equally frustrated Democrats.
Bennett often joined Allen during debates in trying to tie Curtis to Trump. Curtis expressed support for the president's agenda and said he could put aside what he termed distractions coming from the administration.
One of the Curtis campaign's few missteps was running a Facebook ad from a third party that urged voters to support a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, one of Trump's top priorities, sparking controversy before it was taken down.