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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Utah -- 03

Cannon Gets Crunched

Need further proof that this year will be dominated by a change theme? An incumbent member of Congress failed to win renomination in a primary yesterday, the third time voters in both parties have kicked their representatives out of office. In Utah, former gubernatorial aide Jason Chaffetz easily beat Rep. Chris Cannon yesterday in a district that stretches south of Salt Lake City.

Chaffetz, the onetime place kicker for Brigham Young University who later went on to manage Governor Jon Huntsman's campaign and serve as Huntsman's first chief of staff, took 60% of the vote compared with 40% for Cannon, with 93% of precincts reporting by this morning. Cannon conceded around 11 p.m. Mountain Time last night, promising to work to elect Chaffetz.

Despite being out-raised by a seven-to-one margin and not actually living in the district, Chaffetz worked on organizing, first meeting with delegates to the district's Republican convention, where he came ten votes shy of eliminating Cannon outright, and later identifying precinct captains to get supporters to the polls. Cannon blamed his loss on low turnout, though immigration has been a factor in Cannon's narrow nomination wins before (See our preview of the race from yesterday).

But Chaffetz also maintained that his victory was a win for a new Republican Party. "We rocked the vote here in Utah and we rocked the Republican Party," Chaffetz told supporters, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Even the NRCC chimed in on the theme. "Chaffetz ran a grassroots campaign that centered on changing the way Washington does business -- a theme that will be equally pertinent during the general election in the fall," the NRCC wrote in a memo explaining the results.

That's a motto other challengers to incumbents have taken up as well. In Maryland, Rep. Wayne Gilchrist lost his Republican primary battle to more conservative State Senator Andy Harris, while Rep. Al Wynn lost his Democratic primary race with nonprofit executive Donna Edwards, both by wide margins. (Wynn resigned his seat early, and Edwards, who won the special election to replace him, was sworn into Congress last week)

Still, most incumbents are going to easily win their own primaries this year, meaning the change message will be replayed across the country. That's good for any challenger facing an entrenched incumbent; though this year, given President Bush's low approval ratings, it is likely to benefit Democrats more than Republicans.

It won't help the party in Utah's Third District, though. Chaffetz is running in a district in which President Bush won 77% of the vote in 2004 and 75% in 2000, the fifth-highest performing Bush district in the country. Chaffetz is all but assured a seat in the 111th Congress.

Cannon Primary Saga Continues

Voters in Utah head to the polls today to select congressional nominees, an election that has at least one incumbent worried he may become the third to lose his own party's nod this year. It's not the first time Republican Chris Cannon has faced a tough primary challenge, and this year he faces a new opponent who is stronger than his 2006 opponent. Cannon's constituents, a new poll shows, have yet to really make up their minds.

The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News, surveyed 312 registered voters on 6/19 for a margin of error of +/- 5.5%. Cannon and his challenger, Jason Chaffetz, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Cannon.......44 (+5 from last, 5/19)
Chaffetz......40 (+3)

Chaffetz, the former chief of staff to Governor Jon Huntsman, has shown promise as a candidate with organizing skills. At the party's May convention, Chaffetz won 59% of the vote, coming just a single point shy of denying Cannon a spot on the ballot. Only ten votes would have gotten him over the top.

Cannon faced similarly tough challenges in 2004 and 2006, though it was he who came just shy of winning the convention outright both years. Facing State Rep. Matt Throckmorton, he won 58%-42%, and in 2006 against developer John Jacob, Cannon took a 56%-44% victory.

Both losing candidates, and Chaffetz this year, have attacked Cannon's position on immigration, which they cast as pro-amnesty. Chaffetz won backing from an anti-illegal immigration PAC founded by Rep. Tom Tancredo, Roll Call's John McArdle reports today, and he, like others before him, has been trying to cast Cannon as too liberal for the district (Chaffetz's slogan, "Right for Utah," is an easy double entendre).

The primary winner today is virtually assured of a seat in Congress in Utah's Third District. Touching the southeastern shores of the Great Salt Lake, the district wanders south through Provo and west to the Nevada border. The last two Democratic presidential nominees have failed to win even a quarter of the vote in the district, and though Cannon won the general election with just 58% in 2006, Democrats are unlikely to make even a token effort here.