On Tuesday, Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah became the second incumbent Republican House member to lose a primary to a conservative challenger who made the incumbent’s soft stance on illegal immigration a major issue. Mr. Cannon, seeking his seventh House term in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, lost by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin to Jason Chaffetz, former chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman. Mr. Cannon lost despite outspending Mr. Chaffetz by more than six to one and receiving the endorsements of both of Utah’s Republican senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, and of President Bush, who in 2004 won 77 percent of the vote in the 3rd District - one of the safest Republican congressional districts in the country. (Mr. Huntsman did not endorse either primary candidate.) Chris Cannon’s older brother Joseph serves as editor of the Deseret Morning News, one of the largest papers in Utah, and formerly headed the state Republican Party.
Mr. Cannon (American Conservative Union rating: 96 percent) was hardly a liberal. But he was significantly to the left of his Republican district on the issue of illegal immigration, and the issue was key to Mr. Cannon’s defeat. In 2003, for example, he sponsored legislation that would have allowed states provide in-state tuition to illegals. Americans for Better Immigration, an organization that opposes illegal immigration, gave Mr. Cannon an F- rating in part for his voting record in support of amnesty. In 2004, Mr. Cannon was held to slightly over 58 percent of the vote in winning the Republican primary and in 2006 he received less than 56 percent of the vote in the primary. This year, his luck finally ran out.
Mr. Chaffetz also criticized Mr. Cannon for supporting Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind educational program, calling it something that a genuine conservative would never support. The challenger called for repealing the law and called for abolishing the Department of Education. Mr. Chaffetz also attacked Mr. Cannon for joining President Bush and the Republican Congress to support the Medicare prescription-drug entitlement in 2003- perhaps the largest expansion of the federal welfare state since the Great Society.
Mr. Cannon thus joins nine-term Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest as the second Republican to lose his House seat in a primary this year. Like Mr. Cannon, Mr. Gilchrest came under attack for a series of pro-amnesty votes and was hit hard for voting time and again for porkbarrel spending. The political demise of Wayne Gilchrest and Chris Cannon should serve to remind Republicans that voting for open borders, higher taxes and increased spending can become a fast track to early, involuntary retirement.