Hmmm. Forget about the tea leaves from Kansas and Georgia. The decision from Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee and a leading conservative from the safe confines of Utah, to retire after five terms might be interpreted as a sign of things to come in 2018. Buzzfeed got the initial scoop:
Rep. Jason Chaffetz will not seek re-election in 2018, two sources who have been informed of his decision tell BuzzFeed News.
The Utah Republican was first elected in 2008 to represent Utah’s 3rd District.
Bellwether? Not at all, explained Chaffetz shortly afterward on his Facebook page. He has simply run out of gas for the level of commitment necessary to do the job well, and wants to return to the private sector to have more time for his family. “I am confident that I would continue to be re-elected by large margins,” Chaffetz wrote, and said he might return to the public sector at some point in the future:
Since late 2003 I have been fully engaged with politics as a campaign manager, a chief of staff, a candidate and as a Member of Congress. I have long advocated public service should be for a limited time and not a lifetime or full career. Many of you have heard me advocate, “Get in, serve, and get out.” After more than 1,500 nights away from my home, it is time. I may run again for public office, but not in 2018.
For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives. I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.
I am grateful for all of you in the current and previous 3rd Congressional District. I acknowledge the outstanding work of my dedicated staff. Together we have been a strong advocate for Utahns.
By announcing now, I hope to give prospective candidates time to lay the groundwork for a successful run. I have no doubt the 3rd Congressional District will be represented by a Republican. I trust you to find the best person to serve.
Yes, that’s still almost certainly a safe bet. Utah’s 3rd CD has a Cook index of R+25, and has been represented by Republicans for the last 20 years. Chaffetz won his first election in 2008 — a banner year for Democrats — with 66% of the vote, and hasn’t been below 70% since. Donald Trump won the district by 24 points but only got 47% of the vote, in part because Evan McMullin ran an independent campaign focused almost entirely on Utah. There’s almost no evidence that Democrats can get competitive in this deep-red district.
Or is there? Democrats might get seduced into investing in UT-03 to find out. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday on a grassroots crowdfunding effort by Kathryn Allen for the 2018 Democratic nomination in UT-03 that was fueled by Chaffetz’ dismissal of health-care costs last month. Allen had turned out remarkably competitive, at least in the first quarter:
So far this year, she raised nearly $400,000 more than the five-term Republican congressman, according to first quarter filings due Saturday, leaving her with $534,300 in her account. For the quarter, Chaffetz collected about $176,500. He has $402,700 in cash on hand.
Unlike Chaffetz, small donors provided most of the Allen’s money for the 2018 race. Of the total $564,000 that she collected, 88 percent came from folks who donated no more than $200.
Yes, but more than 80% of her larger donations came from outside of Utah, too. Democrats just learned a lesson about lack of local support in Kansas and Georgia this month. Republicans would looooooove to see the DCCC sink money into another losing effort. Chaffetz plans to stick around for the remainder of his term, though, and Democrats will undoubtedly reconsider when it comes to prioritizing their investments … at least, one would think they will.
Given conservative backing for term limits and populist loathing of the permanent political class, Chaffetz might be poised to become a national hero for both groups. Maybe that retirement won’t last long.
Update: Amber Philips at the Washington Post suggests that Chaffetz may be bowing out in 2018 in order to run for governor in 2020. He told McKay Coppins a few weeks ago that he was “definitely maybe” looking into it. If so, the timing certainly works out.