SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert endorsed Provo Mayor John Curtis over two other Republicans in next month's primary election in the 3rd Congressional District race.
"In Utah and Washington, D.C., we need experienced problem-solvers who will put people before politics," the governor said in a statement Tuesday. "That's why I'm supporting John Curtis for Congress."
Herbert, a former Utah County commissioner, said the Provo mayor "gets things done and is a proven conservative leader. I have no doubt that John will be a congressman who will make Utah proud."
Curtis is running against former state lawmaker Chris Herrod and Alpine lawyer Tanner Ainge in the Aug. 15 GOP primary. The winner will face Democratic Dr. Kathie Allen and several minor party candidates in November's special election.
The 3rd District seat, which represents portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties, as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties, has been vacant since former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz stepped down June 30.
First elected in 2008, Chaffetz said he was leaving Congress to spend more time with his family and is now a Fox News contributor.
Curtis said he was "extremely honored" to have the governor's support.
"His leadership has made Utah the envy of all 50 states. He's proven that conservative governance works. It's time for us to bring Utah results and values to D.C. and end the dysfunction there," Curtis said in a statement.
The endorsement comes the same week Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is set to hold a rally for Herrod, and a new super PAC, Conservative Utah, launches TV commercials backing Ainge that call out Curtis and Herrod for supporting tax increases.
Cruz, who said he's confident Herrod will "prove to be a courageous conservative in Congress," will appear at Entrata, 4205 Chapel Ridge Road in Lehi, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. at a rally for Herrod. A limited number of tickets are available free to the public.
Ainge announced Tuesday he was being endorsed by state Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, head of the Utah Taxpayers Association. Stephenson said neither Curtis nor Herrod "are as far right on the issues as Tanner Ainge."
But it's the governor's endorsement of Curtis that "could indeed have an impact," University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said, given his popularity statewide.
He's sending a message to voters in the expansive district who may not know Curtis that "if you like Gov. Herbert, here's a guy you should support," Burbank said, one who is "less extreme with conservatism."
Brigham Young University political science professor Chris Karpowitz called the endorsement valuable.
"The governor is a conservative, but he's also been more pragmatic and to some extent, moderate, than some others in Utah politics, so I think it sends a signal where the different candidates actually are in their own political views," he said.
Karpowitz said that means some voters may be more impressed by Cruz getting behind Herrod. Herrod was a leader of Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign in Utah and the Texas senator easily won the state's GOP caucus vote.
"The voter who really wants a person who is going to be far to the right and not compromise on those ideological principles, ever, is going to look to someone like Ted Cruz," Karpowitz said.
Burbank said the timing of Herbert's announcement may have been prompted by Cruz coming to Utah to campaign for Herrod.
The support from the governor sends "a particularly important signal" to voters in the 3rd District, another BYU political science professor, Jessica Preece said. Preece said she is supporting Curtis in the race.
Herbert, she said, "is one of the most respected politicians in the state, and he knows Utah well. Herbert's endorsement is likely to reassure Republican voters that Curtis will reflect their preferences."