SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two Utah Republicans vying for a congressional seat faced off in a testy debate Tuesday that showcased sharp divisions on what it means to be conservative in the era of President Donald Trump.
Challenger Chris Herrod said he’s running to give voters in the heavily Republican district a conservative, pro-Trump choice. Incumbent U.S. Rep. John Curtis, on the other hand, said he’s in line with Utah voters, and many are conflicted about the president.
The two candidates differed on issues such as tariffs, gun control and immigration.
“We have to get past what we have in this state, that it is compassionate for us to tolerate illegal immigration,” Herrod said, who has been known for his strict immigration positions. He also criticized his opponent for not always supporting a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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Curtis countered that he wants strong border security, but thinks a physical wall isn’t the best use of money. He also supported a way for immigrants to work for Utah businesses in need of labor.
On guns, Curtis said he was deeply affected by coverage of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and was looking for ways to make schools safer.
“You can’t just hide behind the Second Amendment and say that’s enough,” Curtis said, who ran a shooting range manufacturing business before becoming Provo mayor.
Herrod said he’s running in part because he’s worried about gun restrictions, and is concerned young activists galvanized by the Parkland shooting could eventually vote to “take the Second Amendment away.”
On tariffs, Herrod said he normally doesn’t like them but believes the president should get credit for the way he’s handled them.
Curtis, on the other hand, said broad-based tariffs are now hurting Utah businesses, and they should be narrowed quickly.
The two will face off in a Republican primary on June 26, and the winner will be favored to win in the general election in the district stretching from several Salt Lake City suburbs and ski towns southeast to Provo, including coal country and the tourist-heavy red rock deserts.
It’s not the first time the two men have faced each other: Curtis won the seat in three-way race against Herrod in a special election six months ago to replace former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz. He resigned, citing a desire to spend more time with family, then quickly became a paid Fox News contributor.
Herrod challenged the former Provo mayor again this year, and narrowly kept him from winning the nomination outright at a convention of hard-right-leaning GOP party members.