By Lisa Riley Roche @dnewspolitics
SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, announced Wednesday he is not running for re-election — or any other office — in 2018.
Chaffetz, 50, said in a Facebook post he has "made a personal decision to return to the private sector." He told the Deseret News last year he was interested in running for governor when Gov. Gary Herbert's term ends in 2020.
"Maybe" was Chaffetz's answer Wednesday when asked whether he would seek the governorship.
"I'm not trying to close the door or open the door to anything in the future," he said. "I'm trying to be as candid as I can."
That means returning to the private sector for what he suggested could be a communications position — at least for now. Chaffetz told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright he could make a decision about another run for office in "a couple of years."
"But here, early in 2017, I'm not willing to commit one direction or another," he said. "I expect to be involved and engaged in politics. I'm not walking totally away. I want to have a voice out there. I enjoy that part of it."
Chaffetz, who said he continues to sleep on a cot in his congressional office while he's in Washington, repeatedly said he made the decision not to run because he wants to spend more time with his family.
He said his announcement makes it clear he will not run for Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat next year. Hatch, R-Utah, first elected in 1976, has not yet said for sure whether he will seek re-election.
Although Chaffetz easily won a fifth term in 2016, he was facing a tough campaign for the 3rd District seat next year with Democrat Kathryn Allen, who already has raised more money than him, and Republicans eyeing the race — including Provo Mayor John Curtis.
Curtis said Wednesday Chaffetz's decision not to run gave him pause, but he stopped short of jumping in the race.
Earlier this year, a raucous crowd turned out at a town hall meeting, many demanding that Chaffetz, as chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, investigate President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican.
Chaffetz had pushed hard against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, and had promised the committee had "years of material" against her had she won in November.
A recent UtahPolicy.com poll showed a 14-point drop in support since February 2016 for Chaffetz, down to 52 percent.
"For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives. I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker (Paul) Ryan to continue as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee," he said in his Facebook post.
The surprise announcement made national news, with response from both the Democratic National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“Chaffetz refused to hold Trump and his family accountable for using the presidency to pad their bank accounts at the expense of Americans,” DNC deputy communications director Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
But National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers said "Chaffetz has been a valuable member of the Republican team." He said the GOP is confident the party can keep his largely Utah County seat.
“Republicans have a deep bench of talented candidates in Utah who are more than up to this challenge," Stivers said. "The NRCC is very confident in our ability to keep this seat red in November 2018.”