WASHINGTON — Utah family physician Kathryn Allen hoped to deliver Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) a dose of “strong medicine” (read: a loss) in the 2018 election. Now she won’t have to.
On Wednesday, the controversial chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said he would not seek re-election in 2018. In the wake of the announcement, the Democratic hopeful took to social media to assure residents of the Beehive State she is prepared to do the job Chaffetz will not.
Chaffetz bowing out adds uncertainty to the future of Utah’s strongly Republican 3rd Congressional District. For Allen, who has described Chaffetz as a “terrible excuse for a public servant,” the mission remains the same: restore integrity and responsibility to government.
“That is what we have run on all along and will continue to run on,” she told The Huffington Post on Wednesday. “Our message remains one of consensus and coalition building, of coming together for a common purpose to oppose what [President Donald Trump] stands for.”
In March, Allen announced her plans to run against Chaffetz, citing as motivation the Republican dismissing angry constituents as paid, out-of-state protesters. Then came Chaffetz’s comment that low-income Americans shouldn’t buy iPhones if they are unable to afford coverage under the new GOP health care law — a gaffe that resulted in a groundswell of support and funding for his Democratic opponent.
In just two days, Allen raised about $200,000 in her campaign to unseat the GOP congressman. As of Wednesday, more than $500,000 had been donated to her Crowdpac fundraising page, with more than 14,000 individual donations, including from former television talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell. In the first three months of 2017, Allen brought in roughly $400,000 more than Chaffetz, out-raising her opponent by more than 3 to 1, The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week.
In a post to Facebook, Chaffetz said he planned to spend more time with his family and return to the private sector. He also said he has “no ulterior motives,” that he is “confident” he would have been re-elected “by large margins,” and that he has “no doubt” he will be replaced by a Republican.
Chaffetz has faced a barrage of criticism in recent months over what many perceive as an unwillingness to investigate the Trump administration. He was also bombarded with angry phone calls after introducing a bill aimed at selling off 3.3 million acres of national public land in 10 states. He later withdrew the measure in response to the backlash.
The congressman’s departure sets the stage for a potentially contentious race to replace him.
Lauren Littlefield, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said the party is ready for a fight.
“We have been approached by several candidates interested in taking on the [3rd Congressional District], but none as far into their campaign as Kathie Allen,” she said. “Dr. Allen will now begin to position herself for a run in a open seat.”
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers, however, said he expects his party will come out on top.
“Republicans have a deep bench of talented candidates in Utah who are more than up to this challenge,” he said in a statement. “The NRCC is very confident in our ability to keep this seat red in November 2018.”
Asked about Chaffetz’s decision, Allen said it came as a surprise. She declined to comment on why she thought he chose to step aside.
Allen told HuffPost she hopes the Democratic Party can build off the success it has seen in the wake of Trump’s election, namely the close contests this month in Kansas and Georgia special elections. Americans, she said, are sick of what they are seeing.
“People around the country are optimistic about the Blue Tsunami taking place, and [Georgia Democrat Jon] Ossoff came sooooo close that everyone can see that it is possible to win in a deeply red district,” Allen wrote in a text message. “So I hope that, as more Democrats either win or come close, momentum will build for a big change in Congress in 2018.”
Allen said her platform focuses on promoting science, advocating for public education, protecting the planet and providing every American with health care. And she stressed the important role women will play in changing the collective mindset in Congress.
“Let’s elect women to reflect the true demographics of our country and to bring a balanced voice to government,” she said. “We can unlock a lot of potential and reach across the aisle to undo the deadlock.”