Primary seen as a test of immigration reform pulse
Though few voters are expected to turn out for today's primary election, how they vote in the 3rd District Congressional race is being watched nationwide as a so-called referendum on immigration reform.
In several debates, incumbent Chris Cannon and political novice John Jacob have discussed little beyond immigration. They agree many of the problems facing the nation, from terrorism to quality public education, are rooted in its border security policies.
Cannon has been targeted by anti-illegal immigration groups as being part of a pro-business Republican bloc that is working with the president to pass a soft approach to immigration reform.
As a result of this immigration anxiety that has reached into the nation's heartland, a normally safe five-term Republican congressman is in a tough race with a political neophyte. "I could lose this," Cannon concedes.
Cannon says he leans toward an immigration solution that allows undocumented workers to pay a fine and be allowed to return to their jobs as temporary workers.
Jacob, who calls himself a problem solver, admits he has yet to develop a plan for immigration reform. "I can't give you those details because I don't have them yet."
Political observers say the outcome will be decided by how many Utahns turn up at the polls. A small turnout could benefit Jacob.
Utah pollster Dan Jones says calling this primary comes down to determining who of the few will actually vote. "That is the key. It really, really does come down to turnout," he says.
Since the primaries were moved from September to June and Utah Republican Party leaders closed their races to anyone but registered Republicans, turnout has plummeted. In 2000, just over 15 percent of registered voters in Salt Lake County cast ballots in the primary. Two years later, with the GOP primary closed, turnout was 6.7 percent.
STATE RACES: Primaries across the state will narrow the field of candidates in three State Senate contests and 12 races for seats in the Utah House of Representatives.
Today's primary will determine the fate of several incumbent lawmakers.
In Senate District 18, Sen. Dave Thomas is trying to hold off a challenge from Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner for a seat representing southern Weber County and northern Davis County.
Longtime House member David Ure is trying to break into the Uinta Basin stronghold of Senate District 26 against Kevin Van Tassell, a Vernal banker.
Bountiful Republican Rep. Sheryl Allen is fighting for her political life against challenger Mark Jacobs, who was hand-picked and largely financed by tuition-tax credit advocates.
Orem City Councilman Stephen Sandstrom is challenging Jim Ferrin, a three-term Utah County Republican, for his seat.
And two races - in Sandy's Senate District 9 and Salt Lake City's House District 25 - will test the cachet of several incumbent lawmakers. In the Sandy campaign, home builder Bryson Garbett, supported by House Speaker Greg Curtis, will face off against developer Wayne Niederhauser, who is retiring GOP Sen. Al Mansell's heir apparent. In Salt Lake City, Democrats are split between Josh Ewing and Christine Johnson. Ewing, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's former spokesman, is the darling of many minority party lawmakers. Johnson, a veteran of Equality Utah, is backed by Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich.
COUNTY RACES: Primaries dot Utah's map in county races as well.
In Utah County, for example, Republican Commissioner Jerry Grover is seeking a fourth term but has to overcome an intraparty challenge from Gary Anderson.
Farther north, ex-Centerville Mayor Michael Deamer is seeking the Republican nomination against former school board member Louenda Downs for the commission seat being vacated by retiring incumbent Carol Page.
Other commission primaries include Box Elder, Tooele and Weber counties.
Republicans in two of Utah's largest counties will decide whether to stick with longtime sheriffs. Bud Cox in Davis County and Aaron Kennard in Salt Lake County are locked in primary battles against Todd Richardson and Brent Cardall, respectively.
Voters also will decide school bonding proposals in a number of counties, including Weber, Davis, Utah, Tooele and Washington.
Granite School District will hold two primary elections for areas in West Valley City and Magna.
The Murray school district has one primary. A candidate withdrew from the Jordan school board race, so there will be no primary.
Tribune reporter Sheena McFarland contributed to this report.
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