Utah- Immigration heats Republican primary race
Vote could impact GOP stance, experts say
By Tad Walch
Deseret Morning News
OREM — From New York to Los Angeles, the immigration issue is spurring national interest in this month's Republican primary race between Utah 3rd District Congressman Chris Cannon and challenger John Jacob.
Meanwhile Utah's radio airwaves began to crackle with ads from the two candidates, as Jacob's campaign issued three spots over Thursday and Friday to counter Cannon's initial ad, released the week prior.
Cannon responded with a new ad of his own late Friday afternoon as the candidates position themselves for the June 27 primary, which actually begins next week with early voting at select locations.
The cluster of campaign media buys followed a lengthy article published Tuesday on the Wall Street Journal's Web site that framed the national immigration debate around the Utah race. A story last week in the Los Angeles Times portrayed the immigration issue as a re-election minefield for Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including Cannon.
"A GOP primary for a Utah House seat in the country's most conservative congressional district may set the boundaries for any legislation that has a chance of passing both the House and Senate," wrote John Fund, a Wall Street Journal editorial page writer.
Fund speculated that a loss by Cannon in the June 27 primary could motivate other House Republicans to block any bill that creates a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"House Republicans are already spooked about immigration, and should one of our own lose on the issue, you will see panic break out," one GOP congressman told Fund.
Both Utah campaigns said Fund's Journal piece sparked campaign contributions. Cannon campaign manager Nathan Rathbun said donors who have appreciated Cannon's voting record on other issues were motivated by the article to come to Cannon's aid.
Jacob campaign manager Randy Minson said small donations from people who want stronger immigration policies than Cannon has supported have poured in from more than 25 states in the four days since Fund's article was posted on wsj.com.
"It's an issue that's obviously polarizing in this race and others," Minson said.
Cannon beat a Republican challenger, Matt Throckmorton, two years ago, when Throckmorton ran almost solely on immigration and benefited from tens of thousands of dollars spent by national anti-immigration groups. None of those groups have entered this campaign, but Cannon's first 60-second radio ad anticipated the import of the issue and launched his effort to show that his ideas aren't very different than other national Republicans.
"Why would someone run against a strong conservative like Chris?" a woman says in the ad.
A man responds, "Chris is one of the congressmen writing the new law to stop illegal immigration. He's already voted for stricter screening at entry points, increased border surveillance and more border patrol agents."
The woman adds, "I've read about it. Chris Cannon would also require all immigrants to carry a tamper-proof ID card or be deported."
But while Fund praised Cannon for being "one of the few members to point out the genuine need the U.S. economy has for new workers," that's a position criticized by immigration restrictionists who do not want any new legislation to include a way for illegal aliens to gain temporary worker status that leads to the possibility of citizenship.
One of Jacob's ads appealed to voters who feel that way by having a man, purported to be a 3rd District resident, saying, "I'm not anti-immigration, but I am for the rule of law."
That radio spot and another ended with a tagline — "What if there was a man who thought the way you thought?" — that seeks to take advantage of the former air traffic controller and water rights developer's position as a political novice.
Jacob's campaign staff was angered by Cannon's initial ad because the woman in it also says, "I just hope this opponent runs a clean race and doesn't spend the campaign falsely attacking Chris."
Jacob issued a 30-second rebuttal to what Minson called a "backhanded shot," with Jacob himself saying he would follow President Reagan's advice that Republicans should never speak ill of other Republicans.
Some wondered why it took Jacob until Thursday to air his first radio ad when a poll done by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV in mid-May found that 77 percent of 3rd District residents had never heard of him. Minson said the strategy was designed to avoid voter ad fatigue.
"If you start too early, ads will be ineffective when you come down to crunch time and you need a bang at the end."
Both candidates made appearances Saturday at Pony Express Days in Jacob's hometown of Eagle Mountain. this coming Saturday, they will appear in a debate together at Utah Valley State College.