A groundbreaking grassroots organization built by challenger Jason Chaffetz combined Tuesday with a growing storm of Republican discontent to sweep six-term Congressman Chris Cannon out of office.
Chaffetz handily defeated Cannon, earning 60 percent of the vote to land the Republican nomination for Utah's 3rd District seat in Congress, a seat held by Cannon since 1996.
"I got a nice call from Congressman Cannon wishing us all the best. That was a sweet call to take," Chaffetz said after 200 supporters greeted him at 11 p.m. with chants of "Jason, Jason, Jason."
Unhappy Republican voters stayed home Tuesday, and those who did vote expressed their frustration with $4 gas and other problems. Cannon termed it a revolution, a sign that the anger that swept Democrats to power in Congress had lapped up on Utah's borders.
Chaffetz agreed voters are frustrated.
"We have to get serious about $4 gasoline, fiscal discipline and the illegal immigration problem in America," he said. "This is just the beginning. I need your help. We need to take this all the way through November."
He'll clearly follow the same blueprint that won the primary.
"We did two things exceptionally," Chaffetz said earlier in the day. "First, we focused on policy and issues, because issues matter with voters. Second, we created a true, grassroots organization. It was very real."
Chaffetz pointed to his hundreds of volunteers and the demand for things like yard signs as proof of that support.
Chaffetz defeated Cannon at the Republican convention runoff, 59 percent to 41. But Cannon had lost at convention two years ago to John Jacob and then easily won the Republican primary.
Chaffetz maintained a perfect pitch to his campaign throughout, something Jacob couldn't manage, and volunteer campaign manager Jennifer Scott masterminded the grassroots effort.
Despite polls that reflected a statistical tie and a face sunburned by honk-and-wave events during the morning, lunch and evening drive times, Cannon appeared comfortable in his spartan campaign office late Tuesday afternoon. A veteran of several close primary races, he wasn't concerned he might lose.
"It's always been close," he said. "There is a base vote that is opposed to me. But being released is not all a bad thing. I have lots of options and alternatives. If I don't win I'll do exactly the same thing I did before and essentially what I'm doing now. I'll go out and make money, which I can't really do now, and continue to develop tools to help Republicans go out and win."
The two camps watched election results six miles apart, with Cannon backers gathered in a hot, stuffy room on the third floor of the Historic County Courthouse in Provo and Chaffetz supporters just down University Avenue and I-15 at the Camelot Village Clubhouse behind the Springville Wal-Mart.
The clubhouse was electric from the moment Chaffetz thanked his campaign staff at 8 p.m. By 9:30, early returns from 21 percent of the precincts had Chaffetz leading by 16 percentage points, 58 to 42 and the contrast between the two groups grew starker, one buoyed by excitement and the other increasingly somber.
The organization built by Chaffetz and Scott overcame a large gap in campaign cash that grew in the final days before the vote. Cannon's fundraising machine raked in $86,000 in large donations over the last dozen days, according the Federal Elections Commission Web site. Over the same time period, Chaffetz gathered just $6,300.
The new cash put Cannon at nearly $740,000 for the two-year election cycle, with Chaffetz at just more than $170,000.
Chaffetz warmly embraced the financial gap, attacking Cannon for running his campaign in debt and managing his own without a single paid staffer and without providing food for events.
"When we win tonight," Scott told fellow Chaffetz backers before results began to roll in, "everybody will think some genius was behind this campaign, but it wasn't me and it wasn't you, it was all of us."
Chaffetz will face Democrat Bennion Spencer in November. He will kick off the race Saturday with a party at his Alpine home at 7 p.m.
Regardless of who wins the November election for Utah's 3rd Congressional District, Utah will have a freshman lawmaker replacing Cannon and all the seniority he's accrued over six terms.
With Democrats in control, Cannon is the top Republican on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law a panel where he previously served as chairman when the Republicans held the majority.
That panel handles bankruptcy law, interstate compacts and state taxes that affect interstate commerce, among other issues. Cannon is also on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which handles numerous congressional investigations.
Cannon is also a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, where he serves on the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee, a key spot for a Utah lawmaker because there is so much public land in the state. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, also sits on the panel.Although being in the majority does have its privileges, having committee and legislative experience regardless of who controls the House also has its perks and will be something a freshman lawmaker will have to learn.
Contributing: Suzanne Struglinski E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]