If not the Rock of Ages, then maybe the shock of the ages. Freshman Rep. Chris Cannon isn't conservative enough for the state Republican convention and must face political newcomer Jeremy Friedbaum in a June 23 primary.
Cannon fell just short of getting 70 percent of 3rd Congressional District delegate votes needed to win the nomination outright Saturday in the convention held in the McKay Special Events Center on the campus of Utah Valley Community College.In the other marquee contest, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, eliminated conservative Hartley Anderson in the U.S. Senate GOP contest. But even that was closer than many imagined - Bennett got 75.5 percent of the vote to Anderson's 24.5 percent.
It was a slick, smoothly run convention with high-tech video presentations, horses, carriages and fireworks.
But all the pizazz was overshadowed by the delegates themselves - a conservative bunch by Republicans' own standards - and the 3rd District surprise.
Friday night, Friedbaum - a convert to the LDS Church who often quotes scriptures and religious lessons - predicted an upset. He got it.
One of his nominators on Friday told delegates that God would act in the Saturday vote and create a divine miracle.
Asked if God had acted in the convention, Cannon at first seemed stunned by the question. Then he said: "I do believe God cares about politics. But he does not interfere with the agency of man," especially in voting matters, said Cannon, who seeks re-election for the first time.
Cannon said he was "a little surprised, sure," about not winning the GOP nomination outright. He hadn't planned for a primary campaign. In fact, after Democrats failed to file a candidate against him in the 3rd District, he wasn't planning much of any formal campaign this year.
"Now we'll get ready, work hard. This (primary) is a great opportunity to run a grass-roots campaign," said the multimillionaire business financier.
Friedbaum said that "like King Benjamin (a Book of Mormon figure), I will take neither gold nor silver" in running his primary campaign. "I won't accept any political contributions." But he will "go door-to-door, person-to-person" in seeking support from 3rd District voters. The district covers the western half of Salt Lake City and County, all of Utah County and the counties to the south and east.
"I expect (Cannon) will spend millions (of dollars) in an attempt to buy the hearts and minds (of the primary voters). Does that sound like a conservative to you?" asked Friedbaum.
Cannon spent more than $1.5 million of his own money in 1996 in unseating incumbent Democratic Rep. Bill Orton.
Cannon downplayed the role of money in a primary. He said he didn't imagine he would buy any TV advertisements. "This will be a grassroots effort. We'll put our ideas about what a Republican should be out there. (Friedbaum) will put his out. People will get to know him. And then we'll vote."
As he stood outside the McKay Center shaking hands with GOP delegates as they left, Cannon got sympathy from many. To one man he said "let's go get some independent and Democratic" votes in the June 23 primary.
Utah has an open primary system, and voters can chose any party primary in which to cast a ballot. Democrats have no statewide primary at all this year, so they are free to cast a ballot in a GOP primary if one is held in their district.
Religion was mentioned a number of times during the two-day convention. Incumbent Rep. James Hansen began his address by quoting scripture and making it clear to convention delegates that GOP politics - not Democratic politics of the past two decades - were more consistent with religious faith.
The talk of God and divine inspiration was partly because of the nature of some of the candidates, partly in response to statements made to the Salt Lake Tribune last weekend by a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Marlin Jensen, a Democrat himself, said church leaders were worried about the one-party dominance of politics in Utah and the Intermountain West.
But it's the Democrats' own fault they hold few offices in Utah and have little influence, several speakers said Saturday.
Republican Party state chairman Rob Bishop, in his closing remarks, said it's true that conservative LDS Church members are coming to the Republican Party. But so are conservative Catholics and conservative Baptists. That's because the Democratic Party has abandoned most Utahns, he said.
"Democrats should stop whining about what is fair" in the number of offices the Republicans hold "and change," said Bishop. Some are trying, Bishop said, and you hear that in "what they are verbalizing." But in their hearts, Democrats have not changed, he said.
The theme that Republicans are good and Democrats are bad ran through the whole convention. And making fun of President Clinton - and now Vice President Al Gore, too, who is considered the Democrat's presidential front-runner for 2000 - was part of the laughs.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he must admit to delegates that he's invited Clinton to the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. "I figured it would be the only time he could stand by an old flame and not face allegations," Hatch told the hooting crowd.
Gov. Mike Leavitt gave the major address of the day, a speech that could have been delivered by a GOP presidential candidate - although he just laughed at that suggestion when questioned later.
On issue after issue, Leavitt said what was good about Republicans and bad about Democrats. "Bill Clinton doesn't have the credibility to ask for a drug-free America. His administration is one of don't ask, don't tell and for goodness sake don't inhale," said Leavitt.
The governor wasn't concerned that Friday night delegates approved a resolution that called for the end of Leavitt's ban on concealed weapons on state property. "I have no plans to change" the ban, Leavitt said, adding that party platforms and convention resolutions are important, but he makes decisions he feels are right.
Actually, Bishop said after the meeting, the half-dozen or so resolutions may not become state Republican Party dogma. Bishop said he's been studying, along with a variety of party activists, the formation of an "issues committee" that will take resolutions and other matters discussed in conventions and formulate firm statements. The anti-Leavitt/pro-concealed weapons resolution "may or may not stand up" after the issues committee finishes its work, Bishop said.
In other races, two incumbent state representatives will face primary elections as underdogs. Reps. Keele Johnson of Blanding and Carl R. Saunders garnered enough delegate votes to force primary races, but both received less than 50 percent of the delegate votes in their districts.
Conservative state Sen. Howard Stephenson of Draper avoided a primary by garnering 76 percent of the delegate votes - a surprisingly easy win given the much-publicized opposition in his south Salt Lake County-north Utah County district. Stephenson received strong support from the conservative Eagle Forum, and dominated the delegate count from northern Utah County.
Former state Rep. Merrill Nelson received the GOP nomination for the Senate district now held by retiring Sen. George Mantes, a Democrat, and Rep. Peter Knudson received the nomination to run for the seat of retiring Sen. John Holmgren in Box Elder County. Both Nelson and Knudson received the nominations after their opponents either did not show up to be nominated, were disqualified or withdrew.
Other state legislators were also winners. Reps. Bud Bowman of Cedar City, Bill Wright of Elberta, Utah County, and Michael Styler of Delta all garnered more than 70 percent of the delegate votes and avoided primaries. None of the three incumbents have Democratic challengers in the November elections.
"I'm not that surprised at the legislative races," said Speaker of the House Mel Brown, R-Midvale. "There are a couple of primaries, and there will be some new faces, but I don't see a lot of change."
Results of Saturday's state GOP convention are as follows:
U.S. Senate: Robert Bennett (incumbent), 75.6 percent; Hartley D. Anderson, 24.4 percent. Bennett is the nominee.
First Congressional District: James V. Hansen (incumbent), 100 percent; Gerard A. Arthus, not allowed by GOP as a candidate. Hansen is the nominee.
Second Congressional District: Merrill Cook (incumbent), 100 percent; David L. Clark, withdrew. Cook is the nominee.
Third Congressional District: Chris Cannon (incumbent), 68.35 percent; Jeremy Friedbaum, 31.65 percent. There will be a primary.
Senate District 4: Howard Stephenson (incumbent), 76 percent; Ranelle Wallace, 1 percent; Robert Perry, 23 percent. Stephenson is the nominee.
Senate District 13: Jack Nielsen and John Lodefink did not attend; Edward Watson, withdrew; Merrill Nelson, 100 percent. Nelson is the nominee.
Senate District 24: Richard L. Partridge, not allowed by GOP as a candidate; Peter C. Knudson, 100 percent. Knudson is the nominee.
House District 11: Carl R. Saunders (incumbent), 48 percent; Jeff Powars, 52 percent; Randy Tippetts and Warren A. Vaughn eliminated in early voting; Donald M. Whiting not allowed by GOP as a candidate. There will be a primary between Saunders and Powars.
House District 54: Robert Wren, 39 percent; Gordon E. Snow, 61 percent; John Wayne Lloyd, C. Dean Kesler, James E. Williams, Sheri Lagerquist, Allen E. Smith and Gina Erica Tillack were eliminated in early voting. There will be a primary between Wren and Snow.
House District 67: Bill Wright (incumbent), 77 percent; Richard M. Brough, 22 percent. Wright is the nominee.
District 68: Theodore Kyle Pope, 26 percent; Michael Styler (incumbent), 73 percent; Edwin Sunderland, withdrew. Styler is the nominee.
House District 71: Keele Johnson (incumbent), 39 percent; Manuel Torres, 61 percent; James E. Salmon was eliminated in early voting. There will be a primary between Johnson and Torres.
House District 72: DeMar "Bud" Bowman (incumbent), 91 percent; A. True Ott, 9 percent. Bowman is the nominee.