Jason Chaffetz's underdog opponent raised $40,000 in one day off his iPhone gaffe


Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) made headlines Tuesday by saying the proposed Republican health care reforms might force low-income Americans to choose between buying insurance and splurging on a new iPhone. Critics, as one would expect, jumped to slam Chaffetz on Twitter as callous, clueless or both.

And now a Utah physician, who is considering a run against Chaffetz in 2018, is making hay of his remarks, too — or, more to the point, she's mining gold out of them.

Kathryn Allen, a Democrat looking into a long-shot bid to unseat Chaffetz, has a Crowdpac fundraising page that's been flooded with pledges of campaign cash since the Utah congressman's gaffe spread across the web. Allen raised $40,000 in just a day — and broke a record on the political fundraising platform Crowdpac.

"I feel exhilarated, and I'm thinking to myself, 'There's going to be bad days during this next year and a half, but this is a really good one, and I ought to enjoy it,'" Allen said Tuesday night.

Before Chaffetz let loose with his iPhone line, Allen, a 63-year-old family physician, said she thought her fundraising was pretty good for a first-time candidate. She announced her Crowdpac page's debut on Feb. 11, and prior to the Chaffetz dustup, had pulled in about $15,000 of her $50,000 goal.

By Wednesday morning, Allen had blown past her target and raised it to $75,000. She'd also filed a declaration of candidacy to represent Utah's Third Congressional District with the Federal Election Commission. That means her Crowdpac pledges have changed into actual donations, and Chaffetz inadvertently helped turn a would-be opponent into an official one. On Thursday morning, her fundraising goal had risen again, this time to $250,000, and she had was already close to hitting that number with nearly $235,000 in donations.

"I'd choose an iPhone over Jason Chaffetz. Siri could do a better job than him," snarked one commenter in the endorsement section of Allen's Crowdpac page.

Mason Harrison, vice president of communications for Crowdpac, said Allen broke the platform's record for the number of donors to crowdfund a candidate before they actually announce.

"This is exactly what Crowdpac was designed for and is a great example of technology breaking down barriers for political outsiders — helping them raise support so that they can take the plunge," Harrison said via email.  

Allen readily admits her windfall isn't due to any unusual mastery of social media. When an acquaintance asked if she was on Twitter, Allen — a member of a ladies' barbershop chorus and an accordion player — said she replied, "Yes, and I'm not very good at it."

Luckily for her, the grandmother of two has enjoyed some big-league shoutouts from influencers like arch-nemesis of the president Rosie O'Donnell, who late Tuesday directed her million-plus Twitter followers to Allen's Crowdpac page to help "get Jason out of the house."

A Chaffetz representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

While it's "gratifying" to watch her war chest grow thanks to more than 1,500 pledges from all over the country, Allen says she's keenly aware that taking on Chaffetz is a heavy lift. 

"I've got my work cut out for me," she said, calling her district, which Chaffetz overwhelmingly carried in November, "severely gerrymandered."

Chaffetz first won election to Congress in 2008. He chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and serves on the Judiciary Committee. According to FEC records, the Friends of Jason Chaffetz committee ended 2016 with more than $400,000 cash on hand. 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Utah, which Donald Trump easily won in last year's election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, has four representatives to Congress. All are Republicans, as are the Beehive State's two senators, its governor and the attorney general.

Still, Allen said Chaffetz's pattern of dismissive remarks about voters in the Trump era is lending her a hand by showing he's "out of touch." Before the iPhone comment, which he ended up dialing back, Chaffetz claimed people who booed him at a February town hall meeting weren't real constituents but paid protesters from out of state.   

"It's just been such fodder for me," she said. "My sense is that people around the country are very frustrated with him, and they feel that he is a hypocrite."

March 9, 2017, 8:57 a.m.: This story has been updated.