While Utah’s 3rd Congressional District Rep. John Curtis and GOP candidate Chris Herrod share the same party, a debate sponsored by the Utah Republican Party on Friday revealed where the two differ not only on matters of policy but in approach.
The Utah GOP objected to a series of debates run by the independent Utah Debate Commission after being denied influence over moderators and questions. Utah Republican Party Chairman Carson Jorgensen hosted Friday’s debate. Herrod has said he will appear at a Commission debate on Wednesday; Curtis said he won’t.
“There are two different wings in the Republican Party,” Herrod said in his closing statement, standing in an auditorium on Brigham Young University’s campus. “If you’re more aligned with Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox, then I’m probably not your guy. But if you think that the time to be on the fence or in the middle is over, then I am.”
Curtis, on the other hand, focused on his experience as a congressman and former mayor of Provo.
“I’m delighted to have this hour to give you my accountability for the last four years,” Curtis told the crowd of several dozen.
He referenced the 14 bills he has passed during his stint in Congress and highlighted the seat he holds on the “powerful” House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
“You can’t pass legislation unless you know how to work with people, unless you can work across the aisle and get things done,” Curtis said. “That’s what I’ve been able to do.”
Where Curtis repeatedly highlighted the need for reaching across the aisle and working with others to pass legislation, Herrod, from the other pulpit, firmly embraced Trumpism and right-wing talking points, promising to form coalitions of like-minded conservatives to accomplish legislative goals.
“I’m the only candidate in this race who has been willing to speak against Critical Race Theory,” Herrod said. “... I’ve criticized Black Lives Matter for their Marxist origins.”
When answering other questions, he likened environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores given to businesses for investment purposes to fascism, suggested cutting the Department of Education and said that his children “were greatly harmed by mask mandates.”
He also insinuated that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine had former President Donald Trump been reelected and took oblique shots at the “numerous Republicans” that didn’t support Trump’s bids for office.
Despite their differences, the two agreed on limiting federal power and overturning Roe v. Wade. Curtis wondered why aborted children aren’t given the same attention as those killed in school shootings.
Herrod took the opportunity to express his support of Trump.
“We’re overturning Roe v. Wade because of President Trump and the three positions [Supreme Court positions] that he did. And I, like many here in the State of Utah, are extremely happy,” he said.
The final question of the night dealt with protecting children in school while also upholding the Second Amendment.
Curtis answered first and said that breakdowns in families, communities and churches have allowed events like school shootings to take place. While he said he would consider solutions that fit within the Second Amendment, he stressed the complexity of mass shootings.
“I think it’s very, very important that we look at these issues with their many, many layers and not fool ourselves that there’s some quick answer that we could do,” he said. “It’s not a quick mental health fix. It’s not a quick gun fix.”
Later, he stated, “I am a Second Amendment guy.”
Herrod said that the invasion of Ukraine is a cautionary tale about the necessity of the Second Amendment and that more of the “COVID money” should have gone toward implementing protective measures in schools.
“My position on the Second Amendment has not changed,” he said.
The primary between the two will take place on June 28 and is open to members of the Republican Party.
The winner of the primary will advance to the general election on Nov. 8.