SALT LAKE CITY – U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon says his solid victory in Utah's Republican primary is good news for President Bush and those seeking a consensus on immigration policy this year.
The five-term incumbent turned back challenger John Jacob 56 percent to 44 percent, or 32,306 votes to 25,589 votes, with all precincts reporting but an unknown number of absentee ballots to be counted.
Cannon said his win Tuesday indicates House Republicans need not fear compromise on immigration reform.
"This is a big margin of victory. It says a lot about Republicans getting together and solving this problem," he said.
The 3rd District campaign focused primarily on whether millions of illegal immigrants here should be forced to return to their home country before having an opportunity to return to the U.S. -- an approach advocated by Jacob.
Last December, Cannon voted for a House bill that would toughen border security, criminalize people who help illegal immigrants and make being in the U.S. without the required papers a felony. But he also supports Bush's proposal for a guest-worker program and says "there's massive room for negotiation."
Bush, whose immigration policy Jacob frequently criticized, had endorsed Cannon. Jacob's campaign manager, Randy Minson, acknowledged early Wednesday that such a strategy might not have been the best choice.
"It's pretty hard to go up against the 800-pound gorilla in the world of politics. Basically we're taking on the most powerful man in the world," he said.
The 3rd District race was regarded by the candidates and political observers as a bellwether on immigration policy with the potential to affect congressional races across the country.
"Congressman Cannon and I were not opponents," Jacob said in a concession statement late Tuesday. "We were two patriots with differing views for America's future."
Cannon said he believes his victory will unite incumbents.
"I hope what it means is Republicans look at this and realize we don't have to be divided on the issue of illegal immigration," Cannon said.
Both men had said if Cannon lost the primary that House Republicans were likely to be unwilling to negotiate with the U.S. Senate on its illegal immigration bill because they would fear losing their own elections on the issue.
The bill, supported by Bush, includes money to better secure the borders, provide a new guest worker program and gives an eventual shot at citizenship to many of the estimated 11 million to 12 million immigrants in the country illegally -- after paying more than $3,000 in fines, settling any back taxes and learning English.
Cannon's willingness to compromise on the legislation made him a target of Team America, a conservative group that calls illegal immigration the most critical problem facing the nation. It spent $40,000 on radio ads criticizing him.
Jacob favored returning illegal immigrants to their home countries before giving them a shot at U.S. citizenship and punishing businesses for hiring them.
Cannon faces Democrat Christian Burridge, among others, in the November general election in a district that anyone but a Republican has little chance of winning. Bush carried the 3rd District with 77 percent of the vote in 2004.
The sprawling district, which stretches south from Salt Lake County and west to Nevada, is heavily Mormon and predominantly white. Hispanics make up about 10 percent of the population; blacks less than 1 percent.