Anybody interested in gauging the clout of anti-immigrant conservative voters should pay attention to what happens tonight in Utah.
There's a potentially bellwether Republican primary in the congressional district that encompasses a hefty chunk of the state's western side. A five-term GOP congressman, who is allied with President Bush on immigration, could be ejected by conservative voters who believe that he and Bush are soft on illegals.
Congressman Chris Cannon, who generally supports Bush's "guest-worker" plan for illegal immigrants, is being challenged in a House Republican primary by businessman John Jacobs, a political neophyte, who thinks that the Bush guest-worker plan is basically a "mass pardon for lawbreakers," because it doesn't require that the illegals go home first before applying.
And, if the primary eve polls are correct, Jacobs might topple Cannon on that issue alone; the Salt Lake Tribune's latest survey shows Jacobs ahead by a percentage point among voters who are "definite" about showing up. That makes sense, in a way, because low-turnout summer primaries are generally dominated by the most motivated voters, and passions are high right now among immigrant hardliners - even in a state far from the Mexican border.
A lot of congressional Republicans will be watching this primary closely, to also determine whether Bush could be a political drag on their '06 fortunes. (Bush has recorded a Cannon endorsement, relayed to GOP voters via their phones.) Put simply: If the conservative base rejects a pro-Bush congressman in a "red" enclave like Utah -- one of only three states* nationwide, according to Survey USA, where Bush's perfomance favorables are higher than his unfavorables -- then where else, they may conclude, is it safe to openly stand with the president during the autumn election season?
One might argue that Jacobs, a devout Mormon, will lose a few votes because of his recent complaint that "Satan" had prevented him from raising adequate campaign funds. But some GOP operatives think that, in Utah, his remark might be an asset.
* The others are Idaho and Wyoming.