For only the second time in 30 years, Utah Republicans have dumped an incumbent Republican congressman Rep. Chris Cannon was soundly defeated in Tuesday's primary election by newcomer Jason Chaffetz in the 3rd Congressional District.
It wasn't even close a real political shellacking with Chaffetz winning by almost 20 percentage points.
It was not a good night for legislative incumbents, either two Utah House Republicans fell to intraparty challengers.
Cannon was stunned by the defeat.
"This is a revolution. A revolution by the people sitting at home" and not voting. "A revolution by those who did vote," said Cannon, who added he was caught up in a nationwide feeling of anger and disgruntlement anger that helped sweep him from office. "It was a 'pox on all your houses' attitude out there" among voters.
Having barely fallen short of defeating Cannon in the May state Republican Convention, Chaffetz predicted that he would "finish the job" in the primary election. And he did incomplete results showing he beat Cannon in Salt Lake County nearly two to one, carrying the Utah County part of the district and even doing well in rural Utah.
In the only statewide primary the Republican nomination for the state treasurer chief deputy treasurer Richard Ellis bashed state Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, in one of the worst voter-participation primary elections in the state's history, expected to be in the single digits percentagewise.
"The low voter turnout shows just how frustrated in general Republicans are," said Chaffetz. Republicans "have lost their way we have to get back to our core Republican values, our core principles. When we were there, when we held those, that's when we were successful as a party.
"And I'll fight every day to bring us back to those principles," said Chaffetz who now must be the odds-on favorite to win the seat and go to Washington, D.C., a Republican holding the seat in the 1980s and since 1996.
Cannon said last week that Chaffetz was misrepresenting his congressional record "every time he speaks." But Cannon also admitted that he is not the best of public speakers and sometimes has trouble expressing his views. Ellis beat Walker by 59 percent to 41 percent. Walker certainly had his campaign problems, but Walker's defeat was also a slap in the face to leading current Republican officeholders who backed Walker with endorsements and campaign cash. Walker was supported by GOP Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Republican leaders in the Utah House and Senate, who claimed Ellis wasn't conservative enough to invest Utah's billions of dollars each year.
Chaffetz will now face Democrat Bennion Spencer in the November election. And Ellis will face Democratic treasurer candidate Dick Clark.
In northern Utah, Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, was booted out, losing to fellow Republican Ryan Wilcox. Donnelson has been the legislative pointman on illegal immigration, running several unsuccessful bills trying to take away in-state college tuition for the children of illegal aliens. A minor flap may have also hurt Donnelson, when his local county Republican Party chairman tried to organize a Donnelson-Wilcox debate, Donnelson declined to attend.
Rep. Paul Neuenschwander, R-Bountiful, lost a close race to fellow Republican Becky Edwards in House District 20.
Out in the Uinta Basin, Republican Kraig Powell beat David Labrum in the open District 54 seat.
And down in Carbon County, Christine Watkins beat fellow Democrat Grady McEvoy also in an open seat in the only Democratic state legislative primary.
In Senate District 23, Dan Liljenquist, backed by a number of Republican Party insiders, defeated community activist Ron Mortensen in a seat held by retiring Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful.
"There is nothing more I could have done. We made our case to the voters and they responded," said a jubilant Chaffetz, the former chief of staff of GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. "If there was ever a time for change, it was this year."
A new public opinion survey for the Deseret News/KSL-TV by Dan Jones & Associates finds that Cannon was reasonably well-liked by GOP voters in his district, but political independents hold a poor view of the incumbent. Jones found that 46 percent of independents disapproved of the job Cannon was doing, only 38 percent approved. And independents could register as Republicans Tuesday and vote in the closed GOP primary.
Chaffetz ran a lean campaign and was outspent more than six to one by Cannon $631,000 to $98,000. Cannon also had big-name endorsements from most Republican officeholders. But in the end, money didn't matter and neither did endorsements.
Chaffetz had no campaign headquarters and no paid staff.
"I had more than 1,000 volunteers who worked their hearts out for me," he said. "I'm very proud of them."
Cannon, younger brother of Joe Cannon, the Deseret News editor, will leave office in January after serving 12 years in one of the most Republican House districts in the United States. Because Democrats control the U.S. House, Cannon holds no committee or subcommittee chairmanships, but he is the ranking member of a subcommittee and sits on other committees important to Utah.
Cannon got out of the state GOP convention with only a nine-vote margin. And Chaffetz always said the convention where delegates tend to be more politically doctrinaire was his best chance to beat Cannon, even though Chaffetz would have needed a super-majority of 60 percent of delegate votes in convention to take the incumbent out.
The treasurer's race turned bitter after the GOP convention. Ellis claims Walker offered him a job last March if he wouldn't get in the race and even offered him a pay raise.
Walker says he did nothing wrong. Walker says he told Ellis that all treasurer office employees would keep their jobs, including Ellis as chief deputy, if he (Walker) won. Walker said he did that so good employees wouldn't worry about their jobs. Walker says he never offered Ellis a raise, although a go-between who talked to both men stands behind Ellis' version of events.
Tuesday night, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert said he's recommending a civil investigation of Ellis' claims be conducted by the Attorney General's Office. Despite several e-mails supporting Ellis' charges against Walker, Herbert refused to take any action until after the primary election polls closed, saying his recommendation alone could influence Tuesday's vote. The only civil penalty facing Walker would be loss of the treasurer's position, if Walker won. But since he's now out of the race, that civil penalty is moot.Even though turnout in the 3rd Congressional District race was low, Chaffetz said he doesn't think the June 24 primary date should be changed. "Maybe you would get a few more voters if it was moved up into early June," said Chaffetz. Many families go on vacation after school gets out. But Utah should not return to an August or September primary as it has held in the past because more time is needed for Republicans to run against Democrats in the final election, Chaffetz said.
Contributing: Tad Walch E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]