Candidates for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District — incumbent John Curtis (R-UT) and Democrat Devin Thorpe — faced off in a debate Thursday night, seeking to separate themselves on issues where they’re deemed to be fairly similar.
The two largely focused their campaigns on bipartisanship, noting the importance to work across the aisle. In fact, both candidates previously belonged to the opposite party — with Curtis as a former Democrat and Thorpe a former Republican.
Rep. Curtis, who has served in the seat since 2017, has strong support in the heavily-Republican district. A poll by the Utah Debate Commission reports the incumbent has a 30-point margin over Thorpe.
However, Thorpe said he believes it’s a “winnable race.”
Although the candidates agree on some policies — such as climate change and support for rural communities — the two engaged in tense conversations Thursday as Thorpe attacked Curtis’ voting record in Washington.
Despite the flip-flopping to opposite parties, Thorpe and Curtis have similar views on climate change — with both candidates making it a focal tenet of their campaigns.
Curtis said he does believe the climate is changing and acknowledged much of this comes from human action. However, the Congressman said he doesn’t like how the issue is politicized in elections.
“I believe I’m the only Republican in the history of the United States who’s actually stood on the House floor with the House in session and told my colleagues that I believe the climate is changing and that man is having an influence over it,” the incumbent said.
Thorpe responded, noting he was glad his opponent was an advocate for climate change — decreasing the number of issues they actually need to debate. However, he said he was “troubled” by the Congressman’s voting record on climate change.
“I’m very troubled by the congressman’s record on voting,” Thorpe said. “He has never voted for a bill that was designed to reduce carbon emissions. And he has repeatedly voted for bills that increase the use of fossil fuels.”
Rep. Curtis pushed back on this, noting legislation that seeks GOP input is rare — with only Democrats putting forth “message bills” that were extremist and had no chance of passing the Senate floor.
The candidates briefly touched on health care during the debate, namely on the Affordable Care Act. As hearings for the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett — President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination — continue, many Democrats see it as an avenue for the GOP to repeal the ACA, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
However, Curtis said the fight to repeal Obamacare is over.
“Republicans tried to repeal. It was unsuccessful,” he said. “That question is totally off the table.”
Instead, the Congressman argued Democrats are using the protections for those with pre-existing conditions as a tactic to garner votes. Realistically, he said, no Republican is trying to take that away.
“Let’s face it, Democrats won on this one,” Curtis said. “It was one of the things in the Affordable Care Act that we have to admit was good.”
Thorpe said the issue was “deeply personal” for him, as his health care plan comes through provisions protected in the Affordable Care Act. The Democrat fired back at Curtis, noting the Congressman voted in favor of HR692 which sought to allow insurance companies to reject pre-existing conditions.
Curtis pushed back, arguing the Democrat can’t “cherry-pick” issues to “make the conclusion you know how I feel about an issue.”
COVID-19 federal aid
Amid disagreements for a second financial aid package, the two candidates disagreed on what roles Congress should play to extend relief.
Rep. Curtis said he was proud to be a part of the $2 trillion CARES Act passed early in the pandemic. However, he said Congress isn’t “ready for additional legislation yet.”
“No action by Congress is actually action,” Curtis said. “Congress has spoken.”
Thorpe criticized the argument, noting if inaction results in Utahns — particularly those in the 3rd Congressional District — who “are suffering, then that’s not the right action.” The Democrat went further, arguing Congress failed the American people in terms of financial relief.
“The House of Representatives led by the Democrats, the Senate, led by the Republicans and the president have utterly failed,” Thorpe said. “The federal government has really let us down.”