After nearly knocking off six-term Rep. Chris Cannon (Utah) at last months Republican state convention, former gubernatorial aide Jason Chaffetz finished the job Tuesday night in the 3rd district GOP primary.
Chaffetz, 41, now seems like a shoo-in to come to Capitol Hill for the 111th Congress, as he faces a general election campaign against college professor Bennion Spencer (D). Utahs 3rd district, in the central part of the state, is overwhelmingly Republican.
For a primary race that was expected to be tight, Chaffetz, the former chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), made it seem easy as he rode his anti- incumbent message to an overwhelming victory. Chaffetz took 60 percent to Cannons 40 percent.
We rocked the vote here in Utah and we rocked the Republican Party, Chaffetz told about 175 supporters gathered to celebrate the victory, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. I think weve been given a mandate to return the Republican Party to its core conservative principles.
Cannon has teetered on the brink of political extinction in the past, winning competitive GOP primaries in 2004 and 2006 after barely surviving challenges at the state party conventions.
Tuesdays primary occurred because no Republican candidate was able to secure 60 percent of the vote at the state GOP convention last month. But Chaffetz, whom many pundits predicted would finish third in that race, came incredibly close to locking up the nomination then and there. Cannon earned just 41 percent to Chaffetzs 59 percent, and had Chaffetz obtained just 10 more delegate votes, he would have won the party nomination outright and avoided the primary.
In recent weeks, Cannon had sought to derail Chaffetzs grass-roots campaign by attacking the former Brigham Young University football star for running against him while living outside the 3rd district. Cannon had called Chaffetz a political opportunist and said he should be running against 2nd district Rep. Jim Matheson (D) rather than seeking an intraparty battle against Cannon.
But judging from Tuesdays results, those attacks didnt stick. Cannon told Utah media that low turnout may have doomed his re-election bid.
We had a small race and the people of Utah have spoken, Cannon said.
Just 57, the Congressman vowed to remain active in politics. His brother, Joe Cannon, spent five years as chairman of the Utah Republican Party.