A few months ago, Blake Moore was a political unknown as he jumped late into Utah’s 1st Congressional District race packed with 11 other GOP candidates. They included well-known mayors, county officials and a former state agriculture commissioner.

So how did the novice beat them all — and become the odds-on favorite to replace retiring nine-term GOP Rep. Rob Bishop in a district where no Democrat has won in 42 years?

“I was a new face and a new perspective,” says Moore, who just turned 40. “I think people were looking for that.”

He offered something different by talking about his experience as a foreign service officer in Asia and as a management adviser at the Cicero consulting firm to businesses ranging from trash collection to health care, education and molecular diagnostics.

“We need that kind of perspective when we have a global crisis and an economic meltdown,” Moore says. “I think that was one of the key things that people appreciated.”

He also did some unusual things for a lifelong conservative. In a debate, he criticized a proposal by President Donald Trump to send the military into states to control protests. The former winner of the Wendy’s National High School Heisman while at Ogden High School also likes to talk about the need for teamwork — including with people of other races and parties.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Businessman Blake Moore, speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican debate at KUED, Tuesday, June 2, 2020.
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Tempering the current heady times after winning the primary is that Moore faces some tough questions about his residence and biography as he now pivots to the general election.

For one thing, he doesn’t live in the district. Questions also arise about his claimed work as a foreign service officer because of some discrepancies in his resume. He says some secretive, sensitive work he did for the government prevents him from making a clear and detailed public explanation.

Teamwork

Some people who have known Moore for decades are not surprised that he won the GOP nomination, even though they never really thought of him as a politician until now.

Jeanne Hall, who was Moore’s high school counselor and continued as a friend through the years, noted that when he won the primary, “He sent me a text saying, ‘We won. We won.’ I like the ‘we.’ That’s just how he sees things: ‘We’ are all important. It’s not just one person; it’s many who make things successful.”

She says that attitude helped make him popular in high school — where he was captain of the football and basketball teams and had a 4.0 GPA. “He was always very respectful of others” at the central city school where students were more diverse than typical in Utah.

“I loved growing up in a diverse situation,” Moore says. “When three out of five on your team at one point were Black athletes, you don’t get that elsewhere in Utah. That’s something that my dad really valued and loved.”

And he says sports taught him that “working as a team is incredibly important.” He says it should be a goal in Congress and includes working with everyone there. “You’re going to have to win over hearts and minds on certain issues, and you’re going to have to be a team player.”

Because of that belief, he says he plans listening sessions throughout the district before the general election to hear concerns and help build partnerships to address them.

Competition

The belief in teamwork doesn’t mean that Moore is not personally competitive. He is, says Spencer Nelson, who is in Utah State University’s Hall of Fame for basketball and was Moore’s freshman roommate there.

Nelson recalls that during their first finals week, they started playing a video game. “We’re both competitive. So, when I lost, I said, ‘Let’s play one more and then I need to study.’ Then he lost and said, ‘Let’s play one more.’ It kept going back and forth because neither of us wanted to lose until the next thing you know it’s 5 a.m., and I said, ‘I’ve got a final in three hours.’”

Nelson ended up not doing so well on that test.

Moore, though, says, “I knew I didn’t have a final the next day.” When he did take it a few days later, he says he aced the test.

“It’s important to be competitive,” Moore says. “It’s also important to be a good sport.”

Moore mentions that the only political race he ever lost was running for student body office at Ogden High School — when he was beaten by a friend named Critt Aardema. Just before Moore filed for Congress, he surprised Aardema with a call asking if he planned to run for Congress this year.

“He was like, ‘What?’” Moore says, adding that he then told his friend, “I was just making sure. I can’t lose to you twice.”

Moore’s major political experience before the current campaign was as a GOP co-chairman with Better Boundaries, the group that pushed and passed a voter initiative to create an independent redistricting commission to help avoid gerrymandering. “That was a great experience, and I’m continuing on from that.”

Loyalty, service

Nelson says Moore shows incredible loyalty to his friends, which in turn made many of them want to help with his campaign.

Even though Moore and Nelson were roommates for only one year at USU (Moore left after a new football coach rescinded his football scholarship while he was on a church mission to South Korea), Moore later went to Europe to see Nelson play basketball professionally, attended other key events in his life and helped him get a job for a time at Cicero.

“He is the kind of guy that I can count on in any situation,” Nelson says.

(Photo courtesy of Blake Moore) Blake Moore, a Republican candidate in the 1st Congressional District.

He and Hall say they never remember hearing Moore talk much about politics, but that service to others was always important to him — and that he essentially sees politics as service.

Moore agrees. He says a major reason he jumped into the race this year was he thought he “could add a really unique perspective” with his combination of business and foreign service. He adds that working as a foreign service officer also came from a desire to help and serve the country.

He vows that constituent services — helping residents solve individual problems they face with the federal government — will be his top priority in office.

Hard-to-verify claims

Moore has talked during the campaign about how he served for years in Asia as a foreign service officer after training in Washington, D.C.

But his resume initially posted online on LinkedIn raises questions about that, because it listed him only working for the State Department for one year in Washington in 2012. (The agency has yet to confirm his employment after numerous requests over many weeks from The Salt Lake Tribune.)

Before that State Department work, his online resume initially said he lived in Singapore from 2007 through 2011 working for a company called Docberry. State records show that Docberry was a Utah-based firm formed by Moore himself. His work for the company came at the time that Moore has said in speeches and appearances that he was a foreign service officer.

Moore says he is not allowed to describe publicly some of the secretive and sensitive work that he then did for the government that would help to clarify his career timeline, but talked about some of it off the record. Agencies he identified as being involved have yet to verify what he said or have not commented.

Meanwhile, Moore now gives the following public explanation.

After graduating from the University of Utah, he says he applied for a federal government job and “for the next year and a half, I went through a background investigation to earn a top-secret security clearance, and was given a job with a defense contractor that took me to D.C.”

He says he was then with General Dynamics Information Technology, and says he just recently received permission to add that to his public resume. He also now says that he then established Docberry and moved to Singapore and “would travel approximately on a quarterly basis into China.”

Moore says that when he left Asia, “I went back to officially join the U.S. State Department” in Washington, until he left to take a job with Cicero in Utah.

“Unfortunately, you just have to be vague on some matters,” Moore says, because of sensitive matters that he was handling for the government.

Years ago, campaign claims of secret missions abroad for the U.S. government by one officeholder blew up into the Utah 1st Congressional District’s biggest political scandal ever.

Republican Douglas Stringfellow was elected in 1952 after regaling audiences with tales of his exploits as a war hero who went on daring missions for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. The stories turned out to be false.

As the details unraveled later, Stringfellow asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower to release CIA records that would vindicate him and later said he knew they didn’t exist but hoped Eisenhower would say they were closed forever. It led Stringfellow to drop out of his race for reelection.

Carpetbagger?

Moore has faced some controversy in the race because he lives outside the 1st District on the east bench of Salt Lake City — about 15 miles from the district’s nearest border in Summit County. Other Republican candidates had criticized him for that, saying it’s tough to know the needs of a district if a candidate doesn’t live among residents.

Running outside a candidate’s home district used to be almost unheard of and considered political suicide, but it has happened often in Utah recently.

Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, lives about two blocks outside the 4th District he represents. Former Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Jim Matheson, D-Utah, were elected in some terms when they lived outside their districts. The Constitution requires only that members of Congress reside in the state, not the district, they represent.

“I knew it would be an issue,” Moore says. But he says he wanted to run in the 1st District “because I knew my connection to Ogden [where he was raised], I knew my connection to Cache Valley [where he attended USU for a year] and I have cousins who live in Vernal. I knew I could make a strong connection.”

It is also the only open congressional seat without an incumbent seeking reelection in the state this year.

Moore says, “The Constitution is very clear: Send your best, most qualified people back. And I’m going to continue to prove to people that I’m ready and qualified for this.”

Once the district boundaries are redrawn after the census, “My wife and I will make the decision on what we need to do. My family comes first, but I’m fully committed to being able to live in the district” — but some of that may depend on specialized education needs for one of his children.

In the general election, Moore will face moderate Democrat Darren Parry, the former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.