SALT LAKE CITY — Reaction to Rep. Jason Chaffetz's unexpected decision Wednesday to not run for re-election in 2018 rolled in from both sides of the political aisle Wednesday.
Republicans hailed his work in Congress, while Democrats and the anti-Trump crowd hailed his imminent departure. A small group gathered outside the building that houses his office in Provo to dance in celebration.
Meantime, at least two challengers to the five-term congressman had already announced plans to run, and more potential successors are now likely to jump into the 3rd District race.
“I was as stunned as anyone to learn of Congressman Chaffetz's decision not to seek re-election or any public office in 2018," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a prepared statement.
Chaffetz has represented the state with distinction, he said.
"His razor-sharp mind, expansive knowledge and gift for communicating will serve him well when he transitions into the private sector," Herbert said. "Undoubtedly, he will appreciate being able to spend more time here in the great state of Utah."
Chaffetz did not say Wednesday what he intends to do once he is out of office.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., described Chaffetz as "a great defender of liberty and limited government" in a Twitter post.
"Throughout his public service, he's been a reliable conservative and a strong voice for Utah," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The Massachusetts-based advocacy group EarthAction called the congressman's decision a "big victory" for resistance to the Trump administration.
"Chaffetz’s decision to not run is another victory in a battle against politicians who want to sell off our public lands, leaders who gloss over the Trump administration’s abysmal ethics, and members of Congress unwilling to put public trust above party politics," senior political strategist Ben Schreiber said in a statement.
Schreiber, who called Chaffetz an "enabler" of President Donald Trump, said the congressman should resign as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law also called for Chaffetz to give up his chairmanship and said his "behavior has long been beneath the dignity" of the office he holds.
"Clearly, Chaffetz crumbled under the weight of the widespread backlash that he’s been facing for refusing to do his job, which is a victory for all Americans and will serve as a motivating force for the grass roots," he said.
Adrienne Watson, Democratic National Committee deputy communications director, said Chaffetz and vulnerable Republicans are hiding from their constituents and defending an administration under a cloud of a federal investigation.
"Chaffetz refused to hold Trump and his family accountable for using the presidency to pad their bank accounts at the expense of Americans," she said in a statement.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers said he is proud to call Chaffetz a friend.
"Jason Chaffetz has been a valuable member of the Republican team, and we wish him the best as he begins this new chapter in his life," he said. "Republicans have a deep bench of talented candidates in Utah who are more than up to this challenge. The NRCC is very confident in our ability to keep this seat red in November 2018."
Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said Utah is "blessed" with many people who could step up to continue the "good work" Chaffetz is doing. Evans told KSL Newradio's "The Doug Wright Show" that he expects quite a few candidates to enter the race and said one will rise to the top who is the same caliber as Chaffetz.
Democratic candidate Kathryn Allen, a doctor who lives in Cottonwood Heights, has brought in more money so far than all of Chaffetz's previous general election opponents combined. Fueled by Chaffetz's comments about iPhones and poor people and crowdpac.com, she has raised more than $560,000.
"I'm ready to serve, whether Jason completes his term or exits early. I'm ready to make Trump accountable and vote for his impeachment if he has indeed committed high crimes and misdemeanors," she posted Wednesday on Facebook.
Provo Mayor John Curtis and former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin are also possible Republican candidates in the 3rd District.
A crowdpac.com effort to draft Curtis started before Chaffetz's announcement had raised more than $11,200 as of Wednesday. Curtis said he hasn't had time to think about the unanticipated change in the landscape.
"I feel like the earth shifted just a little bit, and I haven’t reassessed after that little shift of the earth to see if it is different," said Curtis, who is not seeking a third term as mayor.
American Fork resident Damian Kidd, a Republican, and 29-year-old Democrat Ben Frank say they're in the 3rd District race.
Other names floating around as potential candidates include Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, and former Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he was saddened to learn that Chaffetz won’t seek re-election in 2018.
"He is a good friend, terrific public servant and a colleague that will be greatly missed in the House of Representatives and in the Utah delegation," he said.
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, thanked Chaffetz for his work in Congress.
"He has served with distinction during his four terms in the House of Representatives, and has become a good friend and colleague. I wish him well," she said.
Outside the Historic Utah County Courthouse, where Chaffetz's office is located in Provo, the organizer of the Wednesday evening celebration called the news a "progressive victory."
"I think Chaffetz has been an embarrassment for Utahns across the board, not just Democrats," Kate Kelly said as about 30 people danced outside the building. "He has not investigated any of Trump's misdeeds."
Zina Bennion, an organizer for the Utah County Chapter of Utah Indivisible, said Chaffetz's decision has changed the planning from promoting efforts to unseat Chaffetz to instead spending more time building up opportunities for Democratic challengers and moderate Republicans.
"Our whole goal was to find a moderate Republican," Bennion said. "We are not stupid, we know what state we live in, we know the prevailing politics and attitudes of people."
Contributing: Ryan Morgan