For Jacob, Cannon it's up in the air
John Jacob, a political neophyte, has ridden anxieties over immigration into striking distance of unseating Rep. Chris Cannon in the 3rd Congressional District race, according to a Salt Lake Tribune poll.
The survey of 400 likely voters, conducted Monday through Thursday, found Eagle Mountain businessman Jacob and five-term congressman Cannon in a dead heat with 44 percent of voters favoring Cannon to 41 percent for Jacob, leaving enough voters on the fence to throw the race either way.
Among those who insist they are "definite" about turning out Tuesday to vote, Jacob holds a slight edge: 45 percent to 44 percent. And among voters in Utah County, the conservative heart of the district that stretches from Salt Lake County to Beaver County, the lead is even more pronounced, with Jacob at 45 percent to Cannon's 40 percent.
In each case, the gap between the two candidates for the Republican nomination is within the margins of error.
Jacob, obviously delighted with the results, says his campaign has done no voter research. "Polling costs money, and we don't have it."
Cannon also was not surprised by the poll results in light of the fervor over illegal immigration that has emerged in recent months.
"I knew this was going to be a tough race. I could lose this," he said. "We knew a lot of people are angry. It's our job to get people out to vote who aren't."
The effect of immigration is clear in the poll conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, with 91 percent of those surveyed saying it was somewhat important or very important. Among Jacob voters, 97 percent say immigration is an important issue of the campaign. And 69 percent of Jacob voters say immigration is the primary reason they would vote for him. Nearly as many Cannon voters (64 percent) say it is the driving issue in voting for their candidate.
"Jacob has a pretty good shot at pulling this off," says Brad Coker, managing director for Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. "It's never easy to beat an incumbent, but he is in a very good position. The question is, can he keep it together through Tuesday?"
George Hill, of Magna, one of three poll participants interviewed by The Tribune, says the heart of the immigration issue is border security. "If you're a terrorist, how are you going to get into the country? Through Mexico. We've got to get a handle on this."
A Payson voter in her 90s who did not want her name used says illegal immigration must be stopped.
Yet she and other voters seem to have difficulty understanding the differences in the candidates' positions on the issue.
"I haven't heard them say anything on anything besides immigration - and I still don't know what they are proposing," she says.
Hill says it's unlikely he'll get any more details on the candidates' stands on immigration, but "Cannon does seem a little soft on it - going along with whatever the president wants."
Recent Brigham Young University graduate Angela Olsen, of Orem, agrees immigration "has become the big thing" in the election but says it's a complex problem.
"You can't send everybody home, there are people who have lived here for generations. But you can't have people who are flippant about the law," Olsen says.
That point of view would seem to put Olsen in Cannon's more moderate camp that would allow undocumented workers to pay fines, then apply for temporary work programs in the United States. Yet, she says: "I've been leaning towards Jacob. There needs to be a change, and Jacob seems more prone to making changes."
Cannon seems to understand those conflicting feelings.
"Utah has a history of people not serving long periods of time. We have a sense we ought to have turnover," he says. But considering the benefits of keeping people in Washington with tenure and experience, he says, "That idea shows a lack of sophistication."
Coker says Republicans nationwide seem to be in the mood for change. "They don't seem shy about dumping people in primaries to send a message to Bush."
Immigration worries have apparently motivated voters to follow this primary election closely. Cannon, who has been in office for a decade, has a name recognized by 98 percent of the self-described likely voters who were surveyed.
But Jacob, an unknown who has never been elected to office or even run for a state or county position, has managed to become known to 84 percent of likely voters.
Part of Jacob's rapidly rising profile can be attributed to recent news stories about allegations that he hired undocumented workers.
Jacob has acknowledged he aided a Chilean couple who were in the country legally by funneling money to the family through a company he helped them set up. But he maintains he did everything possible to avoid violating immigration laws.
"By putting this out, my opponents only showed I have a heart," Jacob says.
Other more recent revelations about Jacob - that the active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gambled, but given it up, and that he believes Satan is obstructing his campaign (the reason he doesn't have money to advertise or poll) - broke in the news Friday, after polling was completed.
Coker, an experienced pollster, says the effect of such unusual stories on voters is hard to predict.
"I have heard of the impact of God being discussed as a part of candidates' campaigns and lives, but never the devil," he says.
Olsen and the Payson voter say the stories are "weird" and even a little ridiculous in the case of claims of devilish intervention, but would not affect how they voted.
Hill is not sure if it will sway him: "Probably not. Maybe it should. It probably will affect a lot of peoples' opinion."
The poll - again, taken before the gambling and Satan revelations - found Jacob is recognized favorably by 33 percent of respondents to Cannon's 41 percent, and only 10 percent see him in an unfavorable light. Cannon, on the other hand, is viewed unfavorably by nearly one out of four respondents.
The Payson woman interviewed is one of them. "I met him once, and he was very arrogant," she said.
She may be a bit unusual, however. Poll respondents older than 50 break in favor of Cannon 47 percent to 38 percent. Those younger than 50 were evenly split.
Another poll, this one published Saturday by the Deseret Morning News, showed Cannon favored 46 percent to 33 percent among all Republicans in the district, although with a closer 49 percent-to-42 percent edge among those saying they "definitely or probably" would vote in Tuesday's primary. The margin of error in that Dan Jones & Associates poll was 4 percentage points.
Included in the Tribune poll respondents' decisions was President Bush's endorsement last week of Cannon. Utah has one of the highest approval ratings of the president in the country. But voters seem to be able to separate their skepticism of Bush's pro-business stand on immigration from their general admiration. They don't seem to mind that Jacob has attacked Cannon repeatedly as a "rubber stamp" for the president on immigration.
Though the presidential endorsement worried Jacob at first, he has shrugged it off. "The president didn't come in to shore up Chris
Cannon, he came in to shore up his immigration policy," Jacob said, adding, "The president doesn't vote in the 3rd District."
In the end, the primary, which is expected to have low participation Tuesday, may be decided by the Republicans most motivated on immigration.
"The lower the turnout, the better for Jacob," Coker says. "If turnout is low, the people who are fired up about immigration will hold sway."