1 of 3
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, center, and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. greet delegates Saturday at Republican convention.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, was forced Saturday into a primary by a state Republican Party convention that showed an undercurrent of discontent, even anger.

Cannon, who seeks a sixth two-year term, will face real estate developer John Jacob in a June 27 closed GOP primary.

Cannon worried for a time that he might not even survive the convention. First-round voting by 3rd Congressional District delegates gave him only 42 percent of the vote, with Jacob getting 36 percent and Merrill Cook getting 22 percent.

A 60 percent vote in the next round for Jacob — who hoped to pick up Cook's delegate vote — would have removed Cannon from office and given the Republican nomination to Jacob.

"If it is the will of the delegates to have a primary . . . I love this system . . . I ask you to think very carefully" about kicking him out of the U.S. House, Cannon told delegates as they lined up for the second round of voting.

But Cannon survived, even if he ended up with fewer votes than Jacob — a clear indication that 3rd District GOP hard-liners were not happy with the incumbent. The final round of voting had Jacob at 52 percent to Cannon's 48 percent.

While surrounded by a few dozen supporters after the convention, Jacob said the delegate vote was a reflection of their disappointment in Cannon's performance as a congressman. Jacob said delegates also trusted him and believed in his ideas.

"The delegates sent a message to Washington that they will replace a Republican with another Republican if they don't get the job done," Jacob said.

Voters everywhere are frustrated with their national leaders, and delegates are generally more inclined to vote against the incumbent, Cannon said, so the primary did not surprise him. As a whole, however, he hoped that Republicans who vote in the primary will look at his experience and accomplishments — including work on a current immigration proposal being considered by Congress — and support a sixth term.

"Most voters recognize that you need to know something about the job," Cannon said. "Seniority and the skill to use it is important."

That frustration was apparent in other races as even U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, didn't receive a huge vote of support. Hatch eliminated three other GOP challengers. But the 30-year veteran only got 78 percent of the delegate vote against clearly weak candidates, while Utah state Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, won the 2nd Congressional District race with 84 percent of the vote.

So a relatively unknown state legislator got a greater percentage of the vote than did the long-serving Hatch.

Unopposed within the GOP, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop was chosen to run in his 1st Congressional District.

Overall, it was not a happy convention as former U.S. Rep. Enid Greene, now state party vice chairwoman, was loudly booed and shouted at as she tried to conduct a morning vote on a controversial party constitutional amendment.

Pounding the gavel loudly on the podium in the South Towne Expo Center hall, Greene yelled, "I will have people be silent or removed" by the sergeant of arms.

How emotional was the debate over party rules? More "delegates" voted in a standing count on the amendment than there were delegates credentialed in the hall. Flummoxed, party leaders then decided to have a rare, special handwritten ballot over the amendment, recommended by party leaders, that would give county parties the sole power over deciding who state delegates are, as is the current practice.

In the end, the amendment failed, although party leaders expect that the debate has not.

"It just means that the delegates did not want to codify what we are already doing," Republican executive director Jeff Hartley said. "What it really means is that this debate will probably continue for the rest of my life."

But the day was mostly about choosing party candidates, or at least whittling down the candidate field in contested races to two primary contenders.

Cannon will have name recognition going into the six-week primary race in the 3rd District, which includes most of western Salt Lake County, most of Utah County and a few counties to the south.

Comment on this story

But Jacob, a millionaire through his water and land development — much of it in northern Utah County — could well have the money edge. He is also willing to use it, saying after the convention that "he will spend enough to get my message out to the voters."

Cannon's latest financial report shows he has only around $30,000, while Jacob, who has already spent $250,000 of his own money on his race and says he may spend $1 million, can just write his own checks in a broad-based, TV-oriented primary campaign.

Cannon was likely harmed by continued attacks from within and without Utah over his stand on illegal immigration — a stand that Cannon maintains has consistently been misconstrued by political opponents as his support of full amnesty. In reality, he said that he is supportive of guest worker permits, but not for those already in the country, a message he hopes will be clarified by the passage of some sort of immigration reform before the primary ends.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; jloftin@desnews.com