SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz’s decision not to seek another term in Congress and possibly resign sets the GOP congressman up for a 2020 run for governor without a damaging reelection campaign or pressure to doggedly investigate his party’s president.
Instead, the 50-year-old congressman who breezed through four reelection campaigns can lay the groundwork for the governor’s race, opening the door for a number of ambitious Utah Republicans to try to replace him in Congress.
A day after announcing he wouldn’t seek reelection next year, Chaffetz said Thursday that he may not even finish the two-year term that started four months ago. Chaffetz said in a text message: ‘‘My future plans are not yet finalized but I haven’t ruled out the possibility of leaving early. In the meantime I still have a job to do and I have no plans to take my foot off the gas.’’
Chaffetz has faced mounting criticism in recent months for declining to investigate President Trump and likely would have faced a bruising primary and general election in 2018.
He said in his announcement Wednesday that he had ‘‘no ulterior motives,’’ is healthy and wasn’t worried about his reelection chances. Instead, Chaffetz said he wants to spend time with his family, return to the private sector, and potentially run for Utah governor.
Chris Karpowitz, co-director at Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said Chaffetz’s decision to bow out is somewhat surprising but eases the path for a governor’s race.
‘‘This is a decision to avoid what could have been an embarrassing defeat that would have hurt his prospects in the future,’’ Karpowitz said.
If Chaffetz runs for governor, he won’t necessarily be the front-runner, Karpowitz said.
He could face stiff challenges from potential GOP candidates that include the state’s popular lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox, and Josh Romney, a Salt Lake City-based real estate developer and son of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Chaffetz’s announcement came on the heels of surprisingly strong showings by Democrats in races in Georgia and Kansas and fundraising reports that showed he was being outraised by a Democratic challenger, though it’s unlikely the GOP will lose the seat.