ST. GEORGE — The first thing you might notice about John Curtis, one of the many candidates vying to replace Mitt Romney in the U.S. Senate, are his socks.

U.S. Rep. John Curtis, a candidate for U.S. Senate, tries to make the case for his candidacy at Stephen Wade Toyota, St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In the 2010s when he was mayor of Provo, Curtis noticed something about the socks of his colleagues at Provo City Hall. They were kind of, well, plain.

“People were wearing black socks, some blue socks. And I saw some socks in a department store that had some lines on them,” Curtis said. “They were on sale, so I bought them and I took them to work. And I had so much fun with them.”

So much fun that he has now amassed a collection of more than 300 distinctive pairs of socks.

Now, he hopes to stand out from the 16 other candidates – including 10 fellow Republicans – looking to replace Mitt Romney in the U.S. Senate.  

Since 2017, Curtis has been one of three Utahns representing Utah in Congress for the 3rd Congressional District that encompasses just about all of the east side of Utah. That has made him less familiar to people in Southwest Utah who have been represented during that time by Chris Stewart and, now, Celeste Maloy.

But Curtis is trying to change that with several visits to this part of the state, including on Monday to Stephen Wade Toyota in St. George.

Speaking in Wade’s office to St. George News, Curtis said Southern Utahns can expect to see him a lot. 

“This is my second trip in a week. I’ll be back here next week, and you can’t get to know people without showing up,” Curtis said, adding that this is what he is known for in the 3rd Congressional District — showing up.

“That’s among the very most important things we can do,” he said. “Because by showing up, we learn your issues, we learn how to serve you, we build relationships.”

In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, then-Provo Mayor John Curtis celebrates with his family after winning Utah’s Republican primary to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz | Photo by Associated Press/Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Born in Ogden in 1963, Curtis’ Utah story includes marrying his high school sweetheart 44 years ago, graduating from BYU and working his way up to leadership positions at Utah company O.C. Tanner and shooting accessory manufacturer Action Target. 

His political story began when he ran as a Democrat for the Utah State Senate in 2000 and lost by 33%. Curtis, switched parties after he said that he, being anti-abortion and pro-gun, didn’t feel like he belonged in the Democratic party. He was then elected to three terms as Provo mayor. After that, he won a special election to replace Jason Chaffetz in Congress.

As a congressman, he sponsored successful bills that revised real estate appraisal amounts for commercial property and renamed an Orem post office for a former mayor, while sponsoring unsuccessful bills to codify the Trump Administration’s reduction in the size of Bears Ears National Monument and remove some environmental impact requirements from oil and gas drilling on federal land. 

He voted against both articles of impeachment against former President Donald Trump but was one of 34 Republicans to vote to establish a commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

His pet issue in Congress, though, has been to be the main Republican voice on the climate, establishing the Conservative Climate Caucus in 2021.

Curtis classifies himself as someone tough to classify. People expecting him to be like Romney or, in an area to the right of that, fellow U.S. Senator Mike Lee, he said are “going to be disappointed.”

“I’m really hard to just lump into a classification. If you look at my voting record, you’ll see one of the most conservative voting records in Congress. If you look at my record of getting things done, you’ll see a track record of really getting things done,” Curtis said. “You can’t do that if you’re not practical. You can’t do that if you don’t build relationships with people that have different opinions than you.

“As people get to know me, they’ll see a conservative who is very, very effective at getting things done. I think constituents are yearning for somebody who can actually do something about what’s frustrating them.”

In a file photo, Stephen Wade Auto Center owner Stephen Wade stands in his office, St. George, Utah, Jan. 28, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

If there is one person Curtis had it made with, it’s Stephen Wade, who gave his endorsement to Curtis as the congressman toured his dealership on Monday.

Wade said he had already met with former Utah House leader Brad Wilson and was impressed by him, but after Curtis announced his entry into the race he felt he had a stronger potential.

“He’s just a genuinely good man,” Wade said of Curtis.

Along with Wilson, leading candidates on the Republican side include Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, political consultant Carolyn Phippen and lawyer Brent Hatch who is seeking the Senate seat once occupied by his late father Orrin Hatch. Record skier and environmental activist Caroline Gleich, heavy equipment operator Archie Williams III and writer Laird Hamblin are running on the Democratic side. 

Curtis said the key to standing out in a crowded field for him comes down to being seen — a lot.

“I think that’s what you’ll see from me in the next five or six months is what’s unique about John and why does John think he’s worth your vote, and I’m actually really looking forward to that,” he said.

At the same time, Curtis acknowledges he falls more on the visitor side of people in Southern Utah than a place he calls home.

“What comes to my mind is this place is among the highest quality of living in the state, right? Like so many others, I’ve enjoyed this area as a visitor many times on many occasions and have a lot of good friends here,” Curtis said, adding that he feels a “real connection” to the area and sees Southern Utah’s issues being similar to those in rural areas of his district such as San Juan and Grand counties.

But talking to Southern Utahns thus far, he said there is one issue he is hearing more than others.

“Everywhere you go, it’s water, water, water, water,” Curtis said. “Clearly, I need to be an expert on water if I’m going to serve this district well.”

U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R, a candidate for U.S. Senate, looks at a portrait of the Wasatch Mountains in the office of Stephen Wade at Stephen Wade Toyota, St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Curtis said he also hears about growth, including the potential growth along the northern corridor of Southern Utah. 

“I think all of those are right in my wheelhouse having dealt as a mayor with the growth in in Provo, having dealt with the public lands issues and water issues in the other part of my district.”

Also in Curtis’ wheelhouse are climate issues. He has said in the past that he is not afraid to say “climate change” or “global warming.”  

“I totally get that just the word ‘climate’ is problematic for people. And the reason it is is it encompasses all the extremism,” Curtis said. “When they hear the word ‘climate,’ they think of the Green New Deal and extremism. But as I have a chance to explain to them that they don’t have to leave their conservative credentials at the door to actually show that we do care about the Earth. People really like that.”

Curtis said his philosophy is that climate change needs to be dealt with but in a way that both the environmentalists and the oil and gas drillers are heard.

“It’s unusual to have a Republican that will even say the word like climate, right?” he said. “But I think as people look at that, they’ll really understand how by leaning into it, I’ve really been able to promote a conservative agenda on energy and make sure that places like Emery County and Carbon County and others that do oil, gas and coal are actually part of the solution, not the problem.

“That shows that Republicans are responsible and we take care of our environment, but we’re not going to sacrifice national security, affordability or reliability. We’re going to do this the smart way.”

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