Sure, sure, Utah County voters are conservative, blah, blah.
Yeah, yeah, Utah County is the reddest county in the U.S. of A. Yada, yada, yada.
We know, already. The broad brush that paints this BYU-blue valley a blushing political red doesn't mean that every person here is a red-eyed, straight-ticket conservative.
A vast number of real, living, breathing moderate Republicans roam these parts and even a few whisper with me now ... Democrats. But the Democrats are so November nothing happens with them until the general election. A major June storm is brewing in the Republican Party, where Jason Chaffetz scared the stuffing out of six-term Congressman Chris Cannon on Saturday.
In fact, Cannon barely survived the day, holding onto his seat by a thread. His congressional career survived at the state GOP convention by a slim nine votes.
That's nine as in 911. If five people had voted Chaffetz instead of Cannon on the third ballot, Chaffetz would have earned a 60 percent supermajority and the Republican nomination. No primary would have been necessary, Cannon would have been done and the race for the 3rd Congressional District would be a November story, too.
Chaffetz pummeled Cannon, beating him 59 percent to 41 percent in the vote of more than 1,000 quite-conservative delegates.
Now this race gets very interesting, because it changes completely. Cannon lost at the convention two years ago, too, to John Jacob, though by a smaller margin, 52-48. Cannon rebounded for an easy win over Jacob in the Republican primary, 56-44.
The Utah Jazz provide a nice analogy. The Jazz are 41-5 in home games this year, including the playoffs, but they win less than half the time they play on the road. Cannon is the Jazz, and despite being a card-carrying conservative, he is playing a road game when he goes to a Republican convention. Republican primaries, on the other hand, have been a nice comfortable home game for him.
The reason is Republican convention delegates in his district are notably more conservative than Republican primary voters, who have never found a compelling reason to recall Cannon from Washington.
The axiom is this. Nobody who has forced Cannon to a primary by running to his right has gone on to win the primary.
Enter Chaffetz, former kicker for the BYU football team (name recognition, check), former campaign manager for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (has won statewide elections, check) and former chief of staff for Huntsman (has weathered media scrutiny, check).
Chaffetz clearly is to the right of Cannon on immigration. Chaffetz is calling for English to be the official language of the United States, for example.
But no one sees Chaffetz as a one-trick immigration pony, which is how voters largely perceived John Jacob, who also self-destructed in the final weeks of the 2006 primary.
Chaffetz is a consummate pro. He helped Huntsman win 531,000 votes in the 2004 election.
"He's not a political novice," BYU political scientist Quin Monson said. "That's the difference between Chaffetz and John Jacob.
Jacob made rookie mistakes. Chaffetz won't."
The question is whether his game, which played well at the conventions, his home turf, will be as effective on what has been Cannon's home court, the GOP primary on June 24.
The other question about Chaffetz is whether he'll have the cash to defeat Cannon. He went into the convention with $10,000 on hand, having spent far less than Cannon and David Leavitt. Meanwhile, Cannon flexed his fundraising muscles, raking in $15,000 in large donations on the day before the convention alone.
Chaffetz claims he can do more with less, but reaching out to 60,000 primary voters in six weeks is a different bird than talking to 1,100 delegates over 16 months.
"He can't shake every primary voter's hand," Monson said. "He has to find a way to communicate to them. If he has the resources, we'll see. If he can't get some publicity and raise some money, then I would expect Cannon to make it through again. If he could raise $100,000 in the next three weeks and could touch every potential voter, he could make it a race.
"I'd still bet on Cannon because it sure is hard to beat an incumbent, and he's going to have the resources."
Chaffetz expressed confidence and said he is modeling his campaign after Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker, who won office last year despite finishing third in spending.
Tonight, Chaffetz commercials return to Utah television, and the core leaders of his grass-roots campaign will meet at his home.
"We had a message that resonated," Chaffetz said of the convention. "Now we'll talk about how we make that same magic happen on June 24."Chaffetz said he won't change his message or who he is. Now we find out if he can translate a well-executed, long-term convention game plan into an equally effective, short-term primary strategy.
Utah County Bureau Chief Tad Walch lives with his wife and five children in Provo, their home for the past 21 years. E-mail [email protected].