Chaffetz defeats Cannon in Republican primary

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U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, one of the nation's most conservative congressmen, lost his bid for a seventh term Tuesday in a Republican primary that focused on whether he was conservative enough for Utah's 3rd District.

Cannon was defeated by first-time candidate Jason Chaffetz, a former Brigham Young University football player who served as chief of staff for popular Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman.

At his campaign headquarters in Springville last night, Chaffetz declared his victory over Cannon saying, "I got a nice call from Congressman Cannon wishing us the best. That was a sweet call to take! [cheering]...This is a great night. I told you before we rocked the vote here in Utah, and we rocked the republican party."

Chaffetz also told his supporters last night, "We need to restore people's confidence in the republican party, and we're here to lead that charge. We need your help."

The lobbying group American Conservative Union said Cannon was nearly perfect on its issues in 2007, scoring 96 percent. But Chaffetz repeatedly pounded the incumbent, especially on immigration, and pledged to be even more conservative.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Chaffetz led 60 percent to 40 percent. Voter turnout was described as low.

"I think we have a mandate to help return the Republican Party to its core conservative principles," he told The Associated Press after Cannon conceded defeat. "People were fed up and we empowered them to become involved and make the changes we need."

The mood was a bit more somber over at Cannon's camp in Provo, where the congressman wished Chaffetz the best but stopped short of pledging his support behind him. He said, "I am anxious to get republicans elected around the country. He's going to be the target. Let's see how he responds in those circumstances. I wish him the best."

Low turnout is one factor Cannon is citing for the reason he's out a job. He said, "The problem here is that we had a very small turnout. And so the people of Utah have spoken. They spoke by not voting, they spoke by voting. He got more people out to vote and congratulations to him for that. He got more people out to vote."

Cannon told us last night, he's disappointed but moving on, saying, "I would describe it as a great burden being relieved. I had a job before I came to Congress, I really enjoyed it. I think I did some important things. I created 1,000 jobs. Being in congress has been very limiting."

Meanwhile, in Utah's only statewide race, Richard Ellis defeated Mark Walker for the Republican nomination for treasurer.

The race was mired by accusations of bribery. Walker repeatedly denied offering Ellis a raise to stay as deputy treasurer and drop out, but the allegation may have stuck with voters.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Ellis had nearly 60 percent of the vote.

In the congressional race, Chaffetz, 41, claimed Cannon was soft on immigration, saying his votes amounted to offering amnesty to people in the country illegally.

In 2003, Cannon sponsored a bill that would have allowed states to charge in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants.

Rather than deporting all illegal immigrants, Cannon has called for a guest-worker program that doesn't punish businesses and allows immigrants to travel freely across the border.

Chaffetz said he wants the U.S. to deport all illegal immigrants and stop granting automatic citizenship to children born here if their parents aren't legal residents.

He also attracted support in the largely suburban district by saying he wants to abolish the U.S. Education Department and cut a slew of federal programs unless they can prove they're working.

Chaffetz will face Democratic candidate Bennion Spencer, a former television reporter, in the general election. In one of the nation's most conservative districts, the ex-BYU kicker is expected to easily cruise to victory.

Chaffetz said his campaign will be no different this fall and his tough words will remain the same if voters send him to Washington.

"I'm going to tell it like it is. We're in a crisis right now. The budget is out of control, immigration wasn't taken care of, and gas is at $4 a gallon," Chaffetz said. "We need new solutions."

He was considered a long shot to win the Republican nomination. Before the Utah Republican convention in May, David Leavitt was considered Cannon's most serious challenger.

But Leavitt, the brother of former Gov. Mike Leavitt, was knocked out early at the May convention, and Chaffetz actually came within a few votes of beating Cannon and avoiding a primary election.

It was a fate Cannon had experienced before -- this was his third consecutive primary.

Cannon had hoped his name recognition, a large amount of campaign cash and a pool of more moderate voters would propel him again to the Republican nomination. An endorsement from President Bush, who still remains popular here, was also expected to help, as it did in 2006.

But this year, the political climate was different.

In 2006, Cannon "had a president that was much more popular that came to his aid," said Quin Monson, a BYU political science professor. "You had a Republican Party riding high, controlling Congress and so on, and you had an economy doing better.

"He had all these factors working against him this time," Monson said.

Monson said Chaffetz did a superb job targeting likely voters, even though he had a much smaller budget. Campaign-finance reports show Cannon raised about $740,000, compared to about $111,000 raised by Chaffetz.

"Even though he doesn't have experience as a candidate prior to this election, he does have political experience," Monson said of Chaffetz. "He's a very savvy and articulate guy. He didn't stumble."

In the treasurer's race, Ellis filed a complaint with the state elections office. Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, also a Republican, waited until polls closed Tuesday to announce that an investigation into bribery allegations is warranted.

The Utah Attorney General's Office will handle any probe.

Herbert said he waited until after the primary election because he didn't want to influence the outcome of the GOP race.

The results are in for one State Senate and four State House seats as well. For District 23 in the State Senate, Dan Liljenquist beat out Ronald Mortenson 64 to 36.

Remember the state representative who didn't want to debate his opponent? Well, he won't have to worry about it anymore. Representative Glen Donnelson, of District 7, lost his seat to challenger Steve Wilcox. Donnelson told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright that a debate wasn't a good use of his time since few people attended. One of the proposed dates for a debate also happened to be Donnelson's date night. Wilcox beat Donelson 61 to 29 percent.

For the state house: in District 69, Christine Watkins defeated Grady McEvoy 65 to 35; in District 20, Becky Edwards beat Paul Neuenschwander 52 to 48; and in District 54, Kraig Powell defeated David Labrum 52 to 48 percent.

County clerks in Salt Lake and Davis counties say turnout rates were likely below 10 percent, and could be the lowest ever seen.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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AP and Nicole Gonzales


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