For 4th-term Rep. John Curtis, running for Senate is a whole new ballgame

U.S. Senate candidate John Curtis speaks with attendees at the Lincoln Day GOP fundraising dinner at UVU in Orem on March 16.

U.S. Senate candidate John Curtis speaks with attendees at the Lincoln Day GOP fundraising dinner at UVU in Orem on March 16. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


5 photos
Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes

Editor's note: KSL.com is featuring stories about the four GOP candidates on the June 25 primary ballot who are seeking to replace Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. Jason Walton was featured Tuesday. Wednesday, a look at John Curtis. Brad Wilson will be featured on Thursday, and Trent Staggs on Friday.

PROVO — John Curtis is no stranger to political campaigns. The Republican congressman was elected mayor of Provo twice and has won four congressional campaigns, beginning with his special election win in 2017 to replace outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

But this year's race for Senate — now narrowed down among Republicans to four contenders — is a different story altogether. Curtis' previous campaigns for Congress covered one of Utah's four congressional districts, leading to the assumption that to run for Senate would require a similar effort, multiplied by four.

The reality wasn't so simple.

"I think we were pretty naive about what was going to work and what wasn't going to work with the campaign," Corey Norman, Curtis' chief of staff, told KSL.com. "The reality is, just the amount of attention from citizens, as you can imagine. ... So it just plays a completely different dynamic."

The amount of scrutiny from politicians and interest groups from out of state is also greatly magnified, given the significant relative power of a single senator.

Utah's geography adds another wrinkle to any statewide campaign. Curtis' current 3rd Congressional District covers portions of 11 counties from Salt Lake County to the Four Corners area. As such, Curtis is no stranger to hourslong car trips to visit the remote regions in his district, but he is now appealing to all Utah voters spread across the state's nearly 85,000 square miles.

Given that Curtis' current gig — as the longest-serving member of Utah's House delegation — requires him to spend significant time in Washington, his days in Utah are packed from dusk to dawn with fundraisers and other campaign events. Personal time is sparse — Norman said three hours to himself is a good week for Curtis — and leisure time almost nonexistent.

But his staffers say Curtis is the only member of the ensemble who rarely, if ever, grumbles about the workload, instead cheerfully submitting himself to the gauntlet of whistle-stops the campaign lays in front of him each day.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, poses for a photograph at the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake City on Dec. 28, 2023.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, poses for a photograph at the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake City on Dec. 28, 2023. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Trading House for Senate

Curtis and several campaign staffers met KSL.com in the parking lot of a Walmart just a stone's throw from I-15 last week, a common meeting point to coordinate campaign activities. Contrary to popular belief, running for Senate is an "unglamorous" undertaking, Curtis said with a laugh.

The crew piled into a rented Chrysler minivan that has become the campaign's mobile headquarters. The vehicle was stocked with a tote bag of popcorn, protein shakes and other snacks, a couple of blazers and several pairs of shoes to fit a variety of functions. On this day, they were 28 days removed from the June 25 primary election, Norman noted, and there was only a week before ballots began to hit mailboxes.

Curtis had just completed a morning fundraiser and planned to deliver pizza and cookies to several Utah County police departments as a "thank you" to officers before convening a roundtable with officials to discuss wildfire response and prevention that afternoon.

Asked how he initially decided to forgo another term in the House and try for the Senate, Curtis said he took some convincing. When Sen. Mitt Romney first announced he would not seek reelection last year, Curtis penned an op-ed in the Deseret News saying he "decided to stay out of the U.S. Senate race at this time."

At the time, Curtis said he viewed his time in Washington as likely "winding down," noting that after several years in the House of Representatives, he was already more than halfway up in the seniority due to the frequent turnover. He described the chamber as "impetuous" at times and said the every-other-year campaign cycle made it hard to focus on governing.

He said "in a sense" the politics in Washington have grown more caustic in recent years, and he said his 2022 reelection campaign was particularly tense. This time around, he's noticed less vitriol on the campaign trail as voters are "tired" of politicians not getting things done.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, with his wife, Sue Snarr, wave to paradegoers along the Days of '47 Parade route on July 23, 2022, in Salt Lake City.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, with his wife, Sue Snarr, wave to paradegoers along the Days of '47 Parade route on July 23, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Kim Raff, for the Deseret News)

Curtis was initially wary to commit to a six-year Senate term, but warmed to the idea after hearing a chorus of support for his potential campaign — and after being nudged by some in his family. Many politicians have to convince their family of their intent to run for office, but Curtis' wife Sue Snarr and children were the ones to eventually bring him on board.

When the subject came up, Snarr was quick to tell Curtis, "You're wrong," he said. Although his children weren't always explicit with him, Curtis said he knew they wanted him to run.

"I always taught them they have to do hard things," he said. "They never said, 'This is one of those hard things you taught us we had to do,' but I could feel it."

Although he was initially unsure, Curtis now knows he made the right decision.

"There was a period of time when I was dating my wife when we got spooked to end the relationship," he said. "Then we came back a second time, and there was no looking back."

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, who retained his 3rd Congressional District seat, speaks at an election night event for Republican candidates in at the Utah Association of Realtors building in Sandy on Nov. 3, 2020.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, who retained his 3rd Congressional District seat, speaks at an election night event for Republican candidates in at the Utah Association of Realtors building in Sandy on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

'It was because of him'

After spending some 30 minutes chatting with officers in the Provo Police Department, Curtis lingered in the new, glistening five-story city building that replaced his old stomping grounds on Center Street to catch up with former employees who still work for the city. When he found his former city attorney's office empty, Curtis posed for a photo with his feet propped up on the desk.

John Borget, the director of administrative services for the city, fondly recalls Curtis' days as mayor and said the congressman has made it a point to remain in touch with his former colleagues.

"Whenever there was a very difficult issue, he just attacked it head-on and was able to come up with good solutions," Borget said. "He was someone that was not only the mayor ... but also was your friend, and I think that the employees really felt that John was there for them."

Norman, who served as Curtis' deputy mayor, said something similar and praised the congressman's ability to bring together dissenting voices. On issues like public lands and energy independence, he hopes Curtis will continue that track record in the Senate.

"Somehow, walking out of that room, everybody (was) feeling like they won something, and it was because of him," he said.

But Curtis' time in Washington has made him wary of overpromising and acutely aware of limitations. When Utah County officials asked him to request additional federal fire mitigation funds, he heard them out before gently reminding them of the robust national debt. He wouldn't forget the request, he said, but there was only so much to go around. They nodded in understanding.

"I like to solve problems," Curtis said. He noted that other candidates might be "brighter, smarter or better-looking," but said he doubts there are any who would "work harder to try to find consensus."

Curtis split from the group in the late afternoon to make calls for an hour or two from home before capping off his day with evening appearances in Lehi and Salt Lake City. He and his staff were already mapping out what would be another packed schedule the following day on the drive back.

Stepping out of the car he waved back to his campaign manager: "I'll see you at 7:15 tomorrow."

Photos

Related stories

Most recent Utah elections stories

Related topics

Utah electionsUtah congressional delegationUtahPoliticsUtah CountyU.S.
Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.

STAY IN THE KNOW

Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast