SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Cannon, the five-term Republican facing a stiff primary challenge here over his stance on immigration, has lost a comfortable lead and heads into tomorrow’s primary in a statistical tie, according to the latest poll by the Salt Lake City Tribune.
The survey of 400 voters found that 44 percent of “likely” Republican primary voters prefer the incumbent Mr. Cannon, compared with 41 percent who prefer developer and political newcomer John Jacob, who promises to crack down on illegal immigration. The three-point gap is within the poll’s five-percentage-point margin of error.
Of those who said they are “definite” about voting in the primary, Mr. Jacob netted 45 percent and Mr. Cannon netted 44 percent. Among both groups, the 15 percent of “undecideds” will determine the outcome of the race. The district is heavily Republican — voting 77 percent for President Bush and 63 percent for Mr. Cannon in 2004 — and whoever wins the Republican primary is expected to coast to victory in November.
Mr. Jacob surprised Mr. Cannon by winning the May Republican convention, although his victory — 52 percent to 48 percent — did not get the 60 percent support needed to avert a primary. But at the time, Mr. Jacob was hardly known outside the most active Republicans who attended the convention, and the polls then had him trailing by as much as 20 points among Republican voters in general. The new poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, shows that wide support for Mr. Jacob has since spread to party regulars.
House Republicans are banking their control of the chamber in November’s elections on the issue of immigration and their resistance to any plan they see as amnesty, including the bill passed by the Senate last month. Though House leaders — along with Mr. Bush — support the incumbent in this race, they are watching it closely, aides say, to see how the issue of immigration plays out.
So far, the race has cost more than $1 million, according to both candidates, and it has been almost exclusively about immigration.
Of those polled by Mason-Dixon, 91 percent said the issue was important. Among backers of Mr. Jacob, 97 percent said the issue is important and 69 percent said immigration is the primary reason they support him. And among supporters of Mr. Cannon, 64 percent said immigration is the primary reason they back him.
While Mr. Cannon says that he opposes granting amnesty to any of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S., he has convinced many Republicans here that he’s soft on the issue.
Mr. Jacob’s supporters point to a comment Mr. Cannon made four years ago while accepting an “Excellence in Leadership” award from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“We love immigrants in Utah, and we don’t oftentimes make the distinction between legal and illegal,” Mr. Cannon said. “In fact, I think Utah was the first state in the country to legislate the ability to get driver’s licenses based on the matricula consular and of that I am proud.”
The matricula consular is an identification card issued by the Mexican government.
Adding to his problems, Mr. Cannon was given the award for his support of legislation to allow the children of illegal aliens to get in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities. An earlier poll by the Tribune found that 71 percent of Utah residents want that law repealed.
Mr. Cannon now says he opposes the Senate immigration bill that would grant citizenship rights to millions of illegals. He does, however, support a “guest-worker” program that would allow illegals to remain in the country indefinitely.
“But they wouldn’t get citizenship,” he said.
If they give birth to children while in the U.S. as “guest workers,” do they then become citizens?
“Well, yes,” Mr. Cannon replied when asked by The Washington Times. “But I’m willing to address that problem.”
Mr. Jacob says he opposes any “guest-worker” program for now and only wants to see the border secured. Solutions for dealing with those already here or the need for cheap labor can be handled later, he said.
When told about the poll results by a Tribune reporter, Mr. Jacob said he was pleased but not surprised given the passionate views voters — particularly Republicans — have about the issue of immigration here, more than 800 miles from the Mexican border.
“People are sick and tired of this,” he said before a debate on public television with Mr. Cannon. “It’s time for a change. It’s time for somebody new in Congress.”