Provo Mayor John Curtis finds places where he can support Donald Trump by focusing on the president’s agenda and ignoring his “distractions,” he said during an online debate Tuesday in the special election to fill Utah’s vacant congressional seat.
His competitors bristled at the suggestion.
Bennett, a moderate third-party contender, vocally and assertively poked at Curtis for his stance throughout the forum.
“I regret with all my heart the Facebook post,” Curtis responded. “It was put up by a third-party vendor, and I also will agree that the response was less than perfect as well. … Instead of actually causing a meaningful dialogue about immigration, it actually just increased the level of divisiveness, and I found myself a victim of being attacked with divisiveness as well.”
Curtis told The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board later on Tuesday that he “really blew it” with the ads. The mayor said if it’s the best solution for border security that he would support a wall between the United States and Mexico — Trump’s oft-touted answer to illegal immigration — but the idea “carries all of this pent-up racism.”
His views on immigration, Curtis added, are more sympathetic than that.
Bennett was quick to counter.
“You can regret the post. You can regret the response. But what’s difficult is figuring out where you stand,” he said. “Do you support a wall or do you not support a wall? When you get to the House of Representatives, you don’t get a multiple choice option. You have to vote yea or nay.”
Curtis is “a man of integrity,” Bennett added, caught trying to balance his ethics with the agenda of Trump, who has “so many serious character flaws.” Allen, too, said the president’s tweets and provocations of North Korea “don’t reflect a mature leader.”
The mayor later joked that his wife only had to plug her ears three times during the debate — which he considered an improvement after a bruising Republican primary where he was attacked for not aligning far enough to the right.
“For three months I was a flaming liberal and now I’m too conservative. It’s kind of funny,” he said. The mayor did not vote for Trump in the 2016 president election and instead wrote in a “good friend’s name.”
“I think the problem is that if you’re willing to throw anything you want into the Trump agenda then you can find fault with it.”
Curtis has polled strongly in the race, nearly 38 percentage points ahead of Allen and more than 48 ahead of Bennett, in the deeply red 3rd Congressional District.
Bennett and Curtis aligned on public lands, welcoming a scaled-back version of Bears Ears National Monument. Allen said that would be “a slap in the face” to the tribes who wanted that area protected by federal decree.
She called for universal health care while they talked about market forces.
And the three agreed that they would try to improve the dysfunction in Washington and work across party lines if elected to Congress (though Bennett said he’s in “a unique position to rise above the fray” as a third-party candidate).
There are at least two more debates before the Nov. 7 election. One is set for Friday at Sandy’s Eastmont Middle School at 6:30 p.m. The other will be Oct. 18 starting at 6 p.m. at Brigham Young University’s KBYU Studios.