While it is encouraging to witness the grassroots shutting down the congressional phone lines whenever an amnesty gets debated, I get frustrated when voters develop amnesia about what the politicians tried to do shortly thereafter. That John McCain could win the GOP nomination for president just months after he became a pariah for being the leading immigration enthusiast in the country sends a clear message: "We may call your office and complain when you propose amnesty, but you can still count on our votes come election time."
Whatever success the patriotic immigration movement has had; it is difficult to find just one case where an open border incumbent was defeated by a challenger who was running on immigration. One example is Chris Cannon of Utah. While conservative on most issues, he has been one of the most vocal open borders advocates in Congress. He managed to win awards from both La Raza and MALDEF where he told the audience, "We love immigrants in Utah. And we don't oftentimes make the distinction between legal and illegal." In 2004 and 2006 he has faced primary opponents who ran against his record on immigration. Although they scared him both times, he survived the challenges.
After each victory, the open borders lobby gloated that this proves Republican voters really don't care about amnesty. You can bring up a dozen of very good retorts. The two biggest are that Cannon wouldn't have had any trouble to begin with—let alone needing the NRCC to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and have President Bush campaign for him— if it wasn't for his support of amnesty. Furthermore, if the voters supported amnesty, Cannon would not have needed to back track and hide his past record on immigration.
But the politicians do not care about what the voters think, they care about whether or not they can get reelected, and Cannon's victories certainly give them some reassurance.
Now for the third straight election, Cannon faces immigration based primary challengers. One was David Leavitt, the brother of popular former Governor Michael Leavitt. Leavitt was well funded, but wasn't much better than Cannon. His platform called for ”implementing a worker-visa program which will provide a transition period where those who are here illegally can voluntarily leave the country and apply for a temporary work visa.” His other challenger is Jason Chaffetz who was chief of staff for former Governor Jon Huntsman, but had not electoral experience and very little money. In contrast to Leavitt and Cannon, Chaffetz got a 100% on Numbers USA’s candidate survey for his opposition to both legal and illegal immigration.
For Utah Republicans, there is convention and then a run off. If a candidate gets 60% or more of the Delegates they automatically win the primary (and in Utah, they are pretty much assured to win in the general election.) If no candidate gets above 60% the top two candidates face a runoff election.
Chaffetz received 59% of the delegates and came within nine votes of winning the primary outright. That an underfunded political novice can beat two establishment candidates in a convention and has a great chance to unseat an entrenched incumbent shows that that the grassroots opposition to amnesty is still spilling over into the elections.