SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – A conservative county mayor moved a step closer to seizing the seat of retired U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, after winning a Utah Republican primary dogged by negative campaigning.
John Curtis of Provo beat out Tanner Ainge, son of Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge, and state lawmaker Chris Herrod in a rare off-year election to fill Chaffetz’s seat.
Results showed Curtis, who claimed victory late Tuesday, received 42 percent of the vote to Herrod’s 31 percent.
Ainge trailed the pair at 27 percent and conceded shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m.
Utah’s 3rd Congressional District spans from Salt Lake County to San Juan County in the state’s southeast corner, and includes portions of Utah, Carbon, Emery, Grand and Wasatch counties.
Though the Associated Press and others called the race, Herrod did not immediately concede citing 30,000 uncounted ballots in Utah County.
Herrod was backed heavily by big-spending, out-of-state political action committees, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s Jobs, Freedom and Security PAC.
Cruz also campaigned for Herrod in Utah.
Curtis, a one-time Democrat, was targeted heavily in print and television ads funded by the super PACs that compared him to Hillary Clinton.
Mailers also mocked Curtis’ casual dress and accused him of raising taxes and using eminent domain during his eight years as mayor.
According to the Federal Election Commission, out-of-state organizations dumped an estimated $1 million into the race.
Club for Growth Action, a Washington-based conservative organization, spent the most at $296,900 to support Herrod.
In one commercial, the group said Curtis and Ainge were “busy pretending to be conservatives” and likened Ainge to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for using the word “bipartisan.”
It separately accused Curtis of supporting tax increases 46 times as mayor and quoted him calling himself a “flaming liberal.”
Curtis responded by fashioning mailers into garden mulch and shooting range targets.
“It works really well,” Curtis said in a video posted to YouTube. “The plants are growing great.”
He added that voters “deserve better.”
“One hundred percent of that [PAC] money is just going to these distortions and these half-truths to try to poke holes in me,” he said.
Ainge, a lawyer in Alpine, was swift to publicly congratulate Curtis on the victory.
“Congrats to @Curtisut! As one the most entrepreneurial districts in the country we need a rep who has biz leadership like him for #CD3,” Ainge posted via Twitter.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert supported Curtis, saying last month, “We need experienced problem solvers who will put people before politics.”
Curtis in turn praised Herbert.
“I’m extremely honored to have the support of Gov. Herbert,” Curtis said in a statement. “His leadership has made Utah the envy of all 50 states. He’s proven that conservative governance works. It’s time for us to bring Utah results and values to D.C. and end the dysfunction there.”
Chaffetz, a five-term Republican, chaired the House Oversight committee from 2015 to 2017. He now works as a contributor for Fox News.
Democrats in June nominated physician Kathie Allen as their candidate to replace Chaffetz.
United Utah Party’s Jim Bennett, son of the late GOP Sen. Bob Bennett, will join several third-party candidates in the Nov. 7 general election.