Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dan Jones Poll Indicates Utah's Congressional Incumbent Are All Leading, Although Chris Cannon Appears Vulnerable

A new Deseret Morning News/KSL poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates indicates that Congressional incumbents Rob Bishop, Jim Matheson, and Chris Cannon are all in the lead. However, the poll also indicates that Chris Cannon is vulnerable. Full story published on March 23rd, 2008 in the Deseret Morning News.

In Cannon's Third Congressional District, the 200 people polled during the period March 17-20 indicated the following preferences (candidates with campaign websites have their names hotlinked):

- Chris Cannon (R): 30 percent.
- David Leavitt (R): 19 percent.
- Bennion Spencer (D): 12 percent.
- Jason Chaffetz (R): 4 percent.
- Undecided: 25 percent.

The numbers only add up to 90 percent. The Deseret News did not explain the shortfall, which most likely is attributable to respondents making other choices that apparently neither Dan Jones nor the Deseret News found newsworthy. Here are all the other declared candidates for the Third District Seat:

- Joe Ferguson (R, Cedar Hills): Paleoconservative constitutionalist, associated with the John Birch Society.
- Stone Fonua (R, Herriman)
- Jim Noorlander (C, Fairview). Click HERE to view a Google video from his 2006 campaign.

Cannon campaign manager Ryan Frandsen said the numbers were "encouraging" because he had more support than the other Republican challengers. Frandsen also noted that the high number of undecided voters shows the average voter is not focused on this congressional race yet, and that there still might be some confusion over the Leavitt name. David Leavitt is the brother of former Gov. Mike Leavitt, now the Health and Human Services secretary in the Bush administration. Frandsen also stated that Cannon is focusing on the Republican delegates and working hard to get their support.

But his challengers see something different in the numbers. "It's amazing that a six-term incumbent has less than a third of the voters supporting him," said Jason Chaffetz. "Most people don't support Chris Cannon, and they want to see a change." However, Chaffetz explained his low numbers by stating that he has been focusing on delegates rather than the general public for the time being. The rationale is that at the State Republican Convention on May 10th, it is the delgates who will select the nominee, so his strategy is to reach the delegates first. Chaffetz also pledged to spend less than $100,000 through the convention.

David Leavitt said he would not expect to be leading a poll over Cannon at this point in the race but the numbers "demonstrate his high vulnerability" to being unseated. "We are within striking distance to be able to beat him," Leavitt said. "What excites us is that we are at 19 percent and only have been campaigning for four weeks." Leavitt said this shows to Republican delegates that if they want to replace Cannon, "their votes ought to go to us." [Clarification: Leavitt first announced his intent to seek the office back on October 1st, 2007, but has only been formally campaigning for four weeks, which explains the distinction.]

While Chris Cannon in many respects is the conservative he advertises himself to be, with good ratings from the American Conservative Union and solid pro-life, pro-gun positions, he is widely considered a "neocon" and a "RINO" because he is perceived as weak on immigration, particularly in regards to giving illegals a "path to citizenship" (translation: A-M-N-E-S-T-Y). Chaffetz seems rather well-spoken and organized, but his association with and departure from the Huntsman administration has been questioned, and he does project a somewhat saccharine Donny Osmond image which may turn some people off. In contrast, David Leavitt has earned respect from the fact that he courageously undertook the somewhat politically-unpopular but judicially-successful prosecution of the articulate and personable polygamist Tom Green, and then paying a political price by losing his subsequent election in Juab County by a narrow margin. By placing principle ahead of politics, Leavitt is emerging as the most credible Republican alternative to Chris Cannon.

Potential Outcome: I don't believe any of the Republican candidates will get the requisite 60 percent of the delegate support at the convention necessary to avoid a primary contest. The top two finishers will go to a primary. Obviously, Chris Cannon will be one of them. The other - most likely David Leavitt, although Chaffetz has a chance.

Meanwhile, in the First District, 55 percent of those polled said they supported Republican Rep. Rob Bishop (Brigham City), while 15 percent opted for Democratic challenger Morgan Bowen (West Hyde Park). The Utah Amicus blog has an informative post on Bowen. Other First District candidates include:

- Joseph Geddes Buchman (L, Park City)
- Kirk D. Pearson (C, Lake Point)

Potential Outcome: Since no party is proffering more than one candidate, there'll be no primary contest. They will campaign uninterruptedly straight through to the general election. While some people consider Rob Bishop to be a bit of a passive legislator, at this point he should be able to win re-election despite Bowen's credentials.

In the Second District, Rep. Jim Matheson of Salt Lake got 60 percent of the voters polled, with Republican opponent Merrill Cook, also of Salt Lake, getting the most support of his Republican challengers at 7 percent. Other Second District candidates include:

- Bill Dew (R, Sandy)
- Donald Ferguson (R, South Salt Lake)
- Kenneth Gray (R, Sandy)
- Chris Jacobs (R, Cedar City)
- Brian Jenkins (R, Saratoga Springs)
- Matthew Arndt (L, Sandy)
- Dennis Ray Emery (C, American Fork)

Possible Outcome: The Republican race could be a real slobberknocker. Merrill Cook, a former Congressman, has to be considered the favorite at this point, but he doesn't own it. Two of his competitors, Bill Dew and Brian Jenkins, have good potential. The question is, will those two take votes from Cook, or will they carve each other up instead, handing the 60% to Cook at the convention? I think there's likely to be a primary contest; Merrill Cook will be one of the candidates, while either Dew (more likely) or Jenkins (less likely) will be the other.

But in the final analysis, what they're fighting for is the right to lose to Jim Matheson in November. Matheson's core constituency is in the left-leaning Salt Lake City, but because he's a "Blue Dog" Democrat, he'll pick up enough votes throughout the rest of the district to propel him to victory over any Republican challenger.

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