OREM U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon squeaked into another GOP primary this June after his 3rd Congressional District delegates almost voted him out of office in Saturday's state Republican convention.
Cannon, R-Utah, will face Jason Chaffetz, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s former chief of staff, who got 59 percent of the delegate vote coming within a few votes of eliminating Cannon and winning the GOP nomination outright.
Former GOP Congressman Merrill Cook, as he has before, failed to get out of a state GOP convention. The loss ended his attempt to reclaim his old 2nd Congressional District.
"This is our process," a disappointed Cannon said just before the final round of voting. Since he's had primaries before, Cannon said, "Yeah, I'm kind of used to it. But it is frustrating. The only way not (to have a party primary - to go without a convention) is to become an independent. But I'm a Republican."
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said Saturday that he will run for re-election in 2010, being 83 at the end of what would be his fourth, sixth-year term should he win again. "I feel good, and believe I'm still in good with the Utah Republican Party."
Still, seeing Cannon struggling in Saturday's convention, Bennett wondered out loud if any federal officeholder would find much luck against GOP state delegates many of whom are arch-conservatives who seemed displeased with all members of Congress.
The dislike for Cannon was palpable. Just before the final round of voting, as Cannon walked down to the convention floor, he was booed by a number of delegates, with some yelling for him to just leave.
Cook fell to newcomer Bill Dew, a millionaire homebuilding who will now be the GOP nominee to face U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, this coming November.
Cook said he will stick with the Republican Party and endorse Dew, although Cook didn't give his competitor much of a chance against the popular Matheson.
"I would have been the candidate who would have had a chance against Matheson," Cook said.
Cannon has made a career of facing a Republican challenger in primary elections, having won such votes several times. Eliminated in the second-to-last round of voting was David Leavitt, former Juab County attorney and younger brother of former Gov. Mike Leavitt. Leavitt endorsed Cannon after being eliminated a move that also brought boos from some delegates.
Nearly 3,300 state GOP delegates voted on a number of congressional, state and legislative candidates, adopted an official party platform and picked the delegates to the national convention and the national committeeman and committeewoman.
As expected, GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. won re-nomination. Unopposed were Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Auditor Austin Johnson. In the open state treasurer's seat, former legislator Mark Walker will battle Richard Ellis in a primary election.
Cannon's poor showing in the state convention is becoming a biennial event for the six-term congressman. This will be his fifth GOP primary in seven elections. He first took office in 1996 in what is considered one of the most conservative congressional districts in the United States.
Like Saturday, Cannon finished second in the 2006 convention as well, but went on to an easy primary victory over fellow Republican John Jacobs.
Chaffetz gave an emotional convention speech that brought a number of the 3rd District delegates to their feet cheering. He broke from Huntsman (Chaffetz was Huntsman's 2004 campaign manager and chief of staff during his first year in office) when he shouted that Huntsman was wrong about global warming saying that global warming "is a farce."
He said both Cannon and Leavitt were running campaigns in debt, and that he wouldn't do that. Saying he was outspent by both men, he would appeal to the better natures of delegates and always stand up for their conservative values.
He said illegal immigration must stop, and that English must become the official language of the country. He said he is a convert to the LDS religion and a convert to the Republican Party, and that he comes to politics with a zeal that some incumbent Republicans have forgotten about.
Chaffetz planned all along to eliminate Cannon in the convention by getting 60 percent of the vote.
In the 2nd Congressional District race, Dew has both the cash and thousands of personal and business contacts from his 30 years as a contractor "that I can use to get additional funds and get an army to defeat Jim Matheson."
He said he will fund a high-profile mass media campaign this summer "to make the name Bill Dew a household name."
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, caused quite a stir when he said all Utahns need to get behind GOP presidential nominee John McCain.
The comment was met with scattered boos from the audience, with a mixture of applause. Hatch said if Republicans don't get with McCain, then Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will win "and that will be an absolute catastrophe" for America.
E-mail: [email protected]