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Former state rep wins GOP nod for 3rd District special election to replace Chaffetz

First Published      Last Updated Jun 19 2017 07:44 pm

After five rounds of voting, former state Rep. Chris Herrod narrowly nabbed the Republican nomination for Utah's 3rd Congressional District on Saturday, defying doubts and cementing his comeback to politics.

"I want to go and remind Congress that we need to get to work," he told the crowd of nearly 800 delegates. He was met by whistles, cheers and claps that erupted each time he walked onto the stage during the five-hourlong convention to select one conservative nominee in the race to replace outgoing Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Herrod knocked out 10 other GOP candidates, noting he's "always been comfortable with being the underdog." He now joins a three-way primary set for Aug. 15 with Provo Mayor John Curtis and investment adviser Tanner Ainge, who both qualified for the ballot by gathering signatures.

Following his unexpected victory, Herrod emerged from the auditorium of Timpview High School — where the convention was held and where he graduated in 1983 — to a swarm of smiling delegates.

"Congratulations, Chris," shouted one man.

"Good job," said another with a pat on the back for Herrod.

Others standing nearby pressed against the walls and looked stunned. The early favorite and anticipated winner — state Sen. Deidre Henderson — lost in the final round of votes: 338 to 415.

"Obviously, I would've liked a different outcome," Henderson said outside the school. "I can't think of anything we would've done differently."

She did not offer an endorsement in the race, though she condemned the last-minute rules change by the Utah Republican Party that made it so only one candidate, rather than the typical two, would walk out of the special election convention a winner. Henderson previously worked on Chaffetz's first campaign for office in 2008.

One delegate, Carolina Herrin, of Spanish Fork, left Saturday still wearing her "Henderson for Congress" T-shirt.

"I'm disappointed," Herrin said. "I was extremely sad that was the end result."

Henderson and Herrod had flip-flopped between first and second place during the five rounds while some members of the audience nervously chewed on licorice and campaign staffers paced the aisles. Herrod ultimately gained 215 supporters from the first vote to the last, though some 27 delegates had left early.

During his first speech, Herrod quietly approached the microphone with his wife, Alia, filling his allotted six minutes with stories about how the couple met in Ukraine and his "fascination with U.S.-Soviet relations."

By the last round of votes, the audience had heavily swayed in Herrod's favor and the former state representative walked out confidently, dismissing his earlier shyness. During his speeches, Herrod talked about his devotion to the Constitution and how to improve relations with Russia. He also supports the GOP-led effort to repeal Obamacare and is a longtime critic of illegal immigration.

"The left and the Democrats want to stall the conservative agenda," he told reporters. "As conservatives, we need to do better. … We need to wake up this nation."

A number of delegates pointed to Herrod's work running Sen. Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign as the tipping point in casting a vote for him. Cruz followed Herrod's win on Saturday with an endorsement on Facebook.

"[Herrod] led my campaign in Utah to a major victory, and I'm confident he'll prove to be a courageous conservative in Congress — at a time when more strong leaders are very much needed," the Republican senator from Texas wrote. After Cruz lost in the primary, Herrod voted for now-President Donald Trump.

Before the convention started, many delegates said they were undecided, which likely aided the unpredicted final push for Herrod.

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