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PROVO — Former state legislator Chris Herrod was the surprise winner Saturday of the Republican Party's nomination to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, beating out 10 other candidates in five rounds of voting among District 3 delegates.
The race came down to Herrod and state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, after Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, Provo Mayor John Curtis and Alpine lawyer Stewart Peay did not have enough votes in the fourth round to stay in the race.
Herrod now joins Curtis and Alpine lawyer Tanner Ainge on the Aug. 15 Republican primary ballot. Curtis and Ainge secured their spots by gathering voter signatures, but Curtis also competed at the convention.
Many had seen the real battle as between Henderson and Dayton, two conservative state senators who have been campaigning hard since Chaffetz announced last month he wasn't going to serve out his term.
But Herrod, whose campaign said he spent less than $5,000 on the race compared to about five times that for Henderson, tapped his longtime experience with the GOP to win over a majority of the more than 1,100 delegates.
Herrod represented a portion of Provo in the Utah Legislature from 2007 to 2012 but first became a GOP delegate in 1984, at the age of 19. He describes himself as not a far-right conservative but a "platform Republican" or "constitutional conservative."
Delegates, Herrod said, know and trust him.
"For me, it was just making sure that they knew what I stood for. They already knew that I would do what I said I was going to do. That's one of the things that I think helped. I am who I am," he said.
And, Herrod said, he is a "true believer" in the conservative cause with a unique understanding of Russia from his experience teaching in the former Soviet Union, where he met his wife.
He called on Americans to stop focusing on what he termed "accusations of collusion" with Russia in President Donald Trump's election and "wake up" to the fact that they are losing their freedoms because of actions in Washington, D.C.
Henderson, who reminded delegates she served as the Chaffetz's unpaid campaign manager in his first 2008 race and has championed deregulation in the state Legislature, could offer no reason for her loss.
She had appealed to delegates to choose a conservative primary candidate who could win in the primary, telling them the race would not end with their vote at the convention.
"The delegates made a decision and I respect that," Henderson said, praising her extensive campaign network. "Who knows? These things happen. Honestly, I can't think of anything we could have done differently."
The real winner Friday may have been Curtis. The popular mayor of the district's largest city is a former Democrat seen as able to attract a wider range of primary voters than a more strident Republican.
"The happiest guy here today, that ought to be doing cartwheels at home right now is John Curtis," said Dave Hansen, a former state GOP chairman who advised Henderson.
Hansen said Herrod is likeable but it's not clear how broad his support is in the 3rd District, which includes portions of Utah and Salt Lake counties along with Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.
Asked if that was the case, Curtis called Herrod a "very different" opponent than Henderson. He said Herrod is "very clear in where he stands. You don't have any question where he stands. I admire that about him."
Curtis said he was a "dark horse" candidate at the convention but it was important for him to let the delegates know he respected the convention system even though he was already on the primary ballot after turning in 15,000 signatures.
Ainge, the son of Boston Celtics general manager and former BYU basketball star Danny Ainge, did not appear at the convention and has largely stayed out of the spotlight.
The election by delegates was held under special rules that gave the party nomination to the candidate who won a majority in the final round of voting after the rest were knocked off under a complicated formula.
Herrod became the winner after five rounds of voting with 415 votes, just over 55 percent, to 338 votes for Henderson, nearly 45 percent.
It took about three hours before the first results in the race were announced, as party officials struggled to explain the voting process that utilized delegate phones rather than separate electronic devices used at the state convention.
Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson told the delegates the change in electronic voting was intended to save the cash-strapped party money, costing about $1,400 compared to $14,000.
In the first round of voting, Vineyard roadside emergency assistance representative Keith Kuder, Murray Uber driver Shayne Row, and Murray flight attendant and writer Debbie Aldrich were eliminated after receiving a combined total of 6 votes.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and defense contractor Paul Fife failed to win enough votes in the second round to stay in the race. Fife gave his support to American Fork lawyer Damian Kidd, but Kidd was out in the third round.
One GOP candidate, Mike Leavitt, an Orem forestry worker, told the party he had left the race although he had not officially filed the required paperwork with the state and did not compete Saturday.
Before voting started, candidates answered questions from some of the nearly 800 delegates attending the convention at Timpview High School and handed out free waffles, doughnuts, juice and other treats as well as campaign literature.
Chaffetz announced last month he was resigning June 30 from his seat in Congress for a private sector position, believed to be with Fox News. The general election for the 3rd District seat will be held in November.