Judge: Bennett’s son can join Utah race to replace Chaffetz

In this July 11, 2017, file photo, Tanner Ainge, left, addresses the crowd as John Curtis and Joe Buchman listen during the debate for candidates vying for the U.S. House of Representatives seat vacated by Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Provo, Utah. (The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge ordered Utah election officials Wednesday to allow the son of late U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett to be on the November ballot in the special election to replace Jason Chaffetz in the House of Representatives.

Judge David Nuffer ruled that arguments from Utah’s election officials that they couldn’t accommodate Jim Bennett and his new political party without shutting out other potential candidates or delaying the election don’t outweigh the rights of Bennett and his new party.

Utah state officials won’t appeal a decision even though they disagree with it, said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in a statement. Cox said his office was following state laws and trying to run an orderly election and wasn’t trying to disfavor Jim Bennett specifically or his new party, the United Utah Party.

“It is unprecedented to place a political party candidate on the ballot before the political party is certified, and without a court order we could not make special exceptions for one candidate,” Cox said.

Bennett said he’s excited by the decision because it allows him to become a real candidate for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District and to raise funds.

He said potential campaign donors have been reluctant to give him money, telling him to come back and talk to them about a donation when he’s on the ballot.

“It’s been frustrating to be in limbo land here,” Bennett said. “This allows me to go full bore and be a candidate.”

“I’ve kind of been in a holding pattern waiting to get back to them. I can get back to them and we can mount a real campaign here.”

Chaffetz made a surprise announcement May 18 that he was resigning at the end of June. Utah elections officials announced May 19 that candidates who wanted to run as a political party’s nominee had one week to file their candidacy with the state, starting that day.

On the last day of the weeklong filing period, Bennett and his United Utah Party submitted documents to officially create the party, which its founders had begun organizing months earlier, and run Bennett as the party’s first candidate.

The Utah lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections, said it couldn’t certify the party in time and couldn’t allow a candidate to run as a party’s nominee if the party didn’t officially exist. That led Bennett to file his lawsuit.

The Republican primary election to replace Chaffetz is Aug. 15, and the general election is Nov. 7.

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