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The 3rd Congressional District Republican nomination race has turned plenty ugly with some $800,000 in outside money paying for negative ads targeted mostly at Provo Mayor John Curtis.

I’m going to be embarrassed for Utah and for the voters of the 3rd District if Curtis is defeated because of the negative ads. He is clearly the superior candidate. Chris Herrod is a fringe candidate, and the only thing Tanner Ainge has going for himself is a famous father and a willingness to go nasty and negative in his first foray into politics.

If Curtis loses, it will be a big victory for out-of-state right-wing groups trying to buy another member of Congress. It will mean the winner will be beholden to those groups and it will result in more dysfunction and gridlock in Congress.

It will also mean that 3rd District voters allowed out-of-state groups to determine the outcome of an important political race, instead of Utahns controlling their own destiny.

What’s more, such an outcome will embolden these groups to get involved in the U.S. Senate race next year. They’ll be in Utah big-time. And if they’re spending between half a million and a million dollars on one little congressional race, you can bet they’ll spend multi-millions of dollars to buy a U.S. Senate seat.

That has all sorts of ramifications, especially because of the late-starting nature of the Senate race. With Sen. Orrin Hatch looking quite vulnerable (low approval ratings and a super-majority wanting him to retire), a rabble-rousing right-wing candidate could easily arise and, with millions in support from these ultra-right groups, mount a strong campaign against Hatch.

Or, if Hatch decides not to run, and if a wealthy candidate like Mitt Romney doesn’t step forward, a relatively unknown mainstream candidate would face formidable opposition from these outside groups, even if the establishment coalesces around the mainstream candidate.

These are uncertain times in politics, and the uncertainty is increased by Hatch’s indecision. His political weakness makes the seat vulnerable whether he runs or doesn’t run and, the longer he waits, the more vulnerable the seat becomes.  

In most states, 2018 Senate races are well underway. The longer Hatch waits, the more out-of-state groups are likely to interfere in the race with multi-millions of dollars.

I still have faith in the good sense of Utah voters. I’m still betting that Curtis will win. But in the era of Donald Trump and the rise of populism, anything is possible. I would hate to see Utah take several steps backward in its representation in Congress.

Hatch has been a magnificent senator and representative of Utah. He will go down in history as one of the nation’s most powerful senators with a remarkable record of legislation passed and signed by the president, in addition to his service to his Utah constituents.

But it is time for him to make a decision and either start campaigning or retire with dignity and respect.