WASHINGTON — By dismissing an angry crowd of constituents as paid, out-of-state protesters last month, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) helped convince a very real constituent in the audience that it was time to run for office.
And when the congressman said Tuesday that low-income Americans shouldn’t buy iPhones if they are unable to afford coverage under the new GOP health care law, he may very well have ensured he’ll have a viable challenger come 2018.
Kathryn Allen, a Democrat and family physician from Cottonwood Heights, Utah, had been toying with the idea of running against Chaffetz, whom she recently described as a “terrible excuse for a public servant.” But it was Chaffetz’s iPhone blunder, Allen’s public response and the explosive groundswell of support — and funding — she received afterward that provided the final boost.
In fact, contributions to her Crowdpac fundraising page rolled in so fast Allen was forced to file a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday, she told The Huffington Post by phone.
“So now I’m official,” she said.
Wednesday evening, her coffer was nearing the $80,000 mark, with more than 2,300 individual donations, then an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” sparked a late-night surge that more than doubled her campaign funds, bringing her near $200,000 late Wednesday. More than 5,000 individual donations had been made.
“I’m completely overwhelmed,” she told HuffPost.
A family physician for three decades, Allen hopes to bring a medical mind from Utah’s 3rd Congressional District to Washington, D.C. As she wrote in her fundraiser bio, “More medically trained people are needed in government. We can critically examine symptoms, synthesize them, and render an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Congress is ailing and we have a prescription.”
Allen said that after the Nov. 8 election, she felt “demoralized” and “angry.” She was able to channel that anger toward politics, focusing initially on ending gerrymandering in her home state. The “pivot point,” she said, came during Chaffetz’s Feb. 9 town hall event in Cottonwood Heights, where angry constituents booed and scolded the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, chanting, “Do your job!”
“I felt this call that maybe I needed to challenge him,” Allen said. Or, as she wrote on her fundraising page, deliver the congressman some “strong medicine.”
Two days later, she launched her Crowdpac page — an “exploratory campaign” of sorts, as she put it. Now this once “exploratory” candidate is in it for the long haul.
Allen told HuffPost she’s not interested in simply campaigning against Chaffetz but on her own beliefs and principles, including providing every American with health care, combating climate change, advocating for public education and promoting science.
Allen recognizes that defeating Chaffetz in such a conservative district likely won’t prove easy. Nevertheless, she’s inspired.
“I’ve got to be encouraged. I mean, yesterday was — I decided there’s probably going to be moments during this campaign where I’m downhearted and discouraged. But when the good days come, you should enjoy them. So I’m enjoying this week a lot!”
Allen also shared a message for the Democratic Party: “We need to put our divisions behind us. We need to truly unite behind the platform that we’ve always had of unity and diversity. And we need to quit eating our own.
“Believe me, people keep telling me to run as Republican, or an independent — They think I would have a better shot. No! I’m a Democrat, and I want to rebuild the Democratic Party.”
In recent weeks, Chaffetz has faced a barrage of public criticism. Along with accusations that he’s going soft on Trump, he was bombarded with angry phone calls over a bill he introduced aimed at selling off 3.3 million acres of national public land in 10 states ― an area nearly the size of Connecticut. Chaffetz later withdrew the measure in response to the backlash.
In a searing editorial last month, The Salt Lake Tribune urged Chaffetz to “investigate, not emulate” the president.
Chaffetz did launch a probe into Trump’s handling of classified intelligence related to a North Korean missile launch while on an open patio of his Florida club Mar-a-Lago. However, he chose not pursue an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying, “It’s taking care of itself.” Flynn resigned after it was revealed he had contact with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the presidential transition about sanctions against the Kremlin and later misled the White House about those conversations.
Chaffetz’s latest mishap came Tuesday when he told CNN that “rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on,” low-income Americans “should invest in their own health care.”