- Associated Press - Monday, April 17, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Democratic political newcomer Dr. Kathryn Allen significantly outpaced incumbent Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz in fundraising in the first three months of the year as she seized on his comments last month suggesting people should spend their money on health insurance instead of iPhones.

Allen raised about $561,000 in March after she launched her campaign and received major boosts from a Twitter shout-out from comedian Rosie O’Donnell and a mention on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show

Allen is mounting a longshot challenge against Chaffetz in the 2018 election in the state’s 3rd Congressional district where half of the voters are registered Republicans.

Chaffetz, a five-term representative who has previously breezed to re-election wins, raised about $171,000 from January-March and was left with nearly $403,000 in his account.

Allen said the numbers reflect a new trend of activism from around the country and “deep unhappiness” toward Chaffetz. Most of her donations came through the website, Crowdpac, which O’Donnell and others linked to. None of her contributions came from political action committees.

Allen said she’s begun campaigning around the state and said she’s confident she can keep raising enough money to make a serious run at becoming the first Democrat in Congress for Utah since moderate Jim Matheson stepped down in 2015. She ended March with $534,000 in her account.

“This message that I can’t win because I’m a Democrat; that I can’t win because I’m not LDS (Mormon), that message is incorrect,” said Allen, a family physician from California who has lived in Utah since 1984. “The time is right for change.”

Chaffetz wasn’t immediately available for comment. He told The Salt Lake Tribune he has plenty of funds for his campaign.

“We’re right where we need to be,” Chaffetz said. “This has never been a problem for me. The election is still a long time away.”

Allen surged into relevance after Chaffetz‘ was asked on March 7 by CNN how lower-income Americans would get access to health insurance when the Affordable Care Act is replaced.

“Americans have choices,” he responded. “Maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”

The remarks triggered a firestorm of criticism on social media and convinced Allen to join the race. Chaffetz later explained he was trying to make a point about people being self-reliant and said he’s “sympathetic to the tough choices people have to make in the face of rising health care prices.”

Most of Chaffetz‘ campaign contributions came during the final three weeks of March after he tried to turn the tables on Allen in a fundraising email to supporters in which he said his next campaign will be different because Allen is backed by O’Donnell, an actress-comedian who has feuded with Trump and lambasted conservatives for years.

A third candidate, Republican Damian Kidd, raised $15,500 but was left with only $1,600 after spending most of it.

The fundraising battles in Utah’s other three congressional districts have yet to heat up.

Democrat Misty Snow just announced last week she’ll challenge Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in the state’s 2nd Congressional district. Stewart had nearly $116,000 at the end of the quarter, campaign reports show.

Republican Rep. Mia Love has nearly $304,000 while two Democratic opponents who filed candidacies have yet to raise any money.

Rep. Rob Bishop, also a Republican, has $223,000 in his account and no opponents.

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