Jason Chaffetz shocked more than a few Utah political watchers when he fell just short of running U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon out of office last Saturday in the state GOP convention.
But now Chaffetz, the former chief of staff of GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., faces a whole new challenge: Defeat an entrenched incumbent in a closed Republican primary June 24 with just five weeks to raise and spend the money needed to introduce himself to tens of thousands of 3rd Congressional District voters.
Convincing nearly 60 percent of 1,000 conservative GOP delegates to dump the incumbent party member is different than getting a majority of 60,000-plus rank-and-file Republicans (and independents who choose to sign up as Republicans to vote in the party primary) to vote Cannon out.
Cannon, 57, has faced a GOP primary challenger in five of his seven elections and he's beaten each one.
"I'm not those guys," Chaffetz said after driving Cannon to the wall of elimination Saturday falling short by just a few delegate votes.
"We've won a lot of elections" in the past "because we've worked hard. And we'll work hard this time, too," said Cannon in an interview from his D.C. office Wednesday.
Chaffetz, 41, says he'll use nearly 1,000 volunteers; smart, yet small, media buys; some direct mail; and good ole shoe leather to win the primary. He has already been running an introductory biography TV ad on cable channels and a few times on local broadcast TV stations. Those ads start running again today, he said.
"Cannon will outspend me 10-to-one. That's OK. I will not go into debt in this campaign. Mr. Cannon has been in debt since he was elected in 1996. How you run your campaign is how you will operate in office. And I absolutely refuse to go into debt and have to ask lobbyists to bail me out," said Chaffetz.
Cannon beat his 2006 GOP primary opponent, millionaire water developer John Jacob, by more than 10 percentage points. "And (Jacob) had a lot more money (than Chaffetz) and had much better name ID than my current opponent, too," said Cannon.
Recent elections, in fact, show just what Chaffetz is up against:
• Cannon is a millionaire who loaned his 2006 campaign $120,000. Chaffetz, a small-business man, can't afford to self-fund his campaign and says he won't go into debt to do it. He's given his campaign nearly $4,000 and says he may make some more small donations in the primary race.
• Cannon raised $95,000 and spent $151,000 in the short, six-week primary campaign two years ago. From his 2004 election through his 2006 primary, Cannon raised $969,000 and spent $864,000. Chaffetz has raised $92,000 in the 18 months he's been running for the 3rd District.
• Jacob, like Chaffetz, got more convention votes than did Cannon. But Jacob, a millionaire, loaned his campaign $544,000, only to be beaten by Cannon in the June 2006 GOP primary. Out of nearly 60,000 votes cast, Cannon got 55 percent to Jacob's 44 percent.
• Cannon has good name ID in his district and a good old Mormon name to go with it. (Joe Cannon, Chris' older brother, is the editor of the Deseret News.) Chaffetz is not as well known in the district and in fact is a convert to the LDS Church and the Republican Party.
Cannon said he'll raise and spend "a little more" in this primary than he did two years ago. His main plan is to identify core GOP voters people who have voted in previous 3rd District primaries and get them to the polls June 24. Cannon will have some radio and TV but believes voter turnout will be the key to his victory this time around.
"In 2006, people were really angry. And they were angry mostly about immigration," said Cannon. While 3rd District voters may still be a bit angry this year, the issues are different: "They are angry about the recession, the Iraq war and high oil prices."
Much of his campaign this time will be convincing GOP voters that he is working and working well on those issues, Cannon said. "I'm the conservative in the race. And I'm an agent for change as I have been before."
Chaffetz, of course, sees the race just the opposite. "I have the issues on my side." And Chaffetz said he won't become the Washington, D.C., politician that Cannon has become.
Chaffetz says that Cannon lacks true grassroots support among 3rd District Republicans. Rather, Cannon has held on to his seat because his GOP challengers were weak to begin with or self-destructed in the primary election. To that end, he pointed specifically at Jacob, whose momentum stalled after he told the Salt Lake Tribune that Satan was working against the success of his campaign. Jacob also had to answer questions about his own gambling and whether he employed illegal aliens.
Free of distracting side debates, Chaffetz said he is "extremely confident" that he will beat Cannon in the primary. An ex-BYU football kicker, Chaffetz joked: "I'll win by three points I'll kick a field goal to seal it."
Still, Cannon remains optimistic and vowed to use the same approach that has worked previously."Heck, I don't know if I'll win," Cannon said. "But we will work very, very hard and we've won those other elections by working hard."
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