For Joe Cannon and Bob Bennett, their Republican primary election Tuesday for the U.S. Senate is the race - both figure whoever wins will have a Washington, D.C., address come January.
They're not dismissing Wayne Owens - who they both figure will be their final Democratic opponent - or Doug Anderson, who could be an upset winner against Owens next week.But both Cannon and Bennett think they'd have to stumble badly to lose the final election. "I'm not sanguine," says Cannon. "But the primary has, all along, been our biggest hurdle." Utah is a conservative, Republican state and Owens was badly hurt this past spring in the U.S. House's bank scandal.
No. For Cannon and Bennett, Tuesday is Election Day.
With so much at stake, it's understandable they're a little jittery. "I told my staff this week, `Hold on, fasten your seat belts, we're in for some rough weather,' " says Cannon.
Bennett spent several tough days early last week pondering whether he should run TV ads criticizing Cannon's personal spending on the race. The latest Federal Election Commission reports show Cannon has given or lent his campaign $4.6 million.
As of Wednesday morning, Bennett, who has put in about $1 million of his own money into his race, had decided not to do it. "Joe has spent so much money, people are starting to question his motives. Why would anyone want that job so badly?" says Bennett.
But Bennett said the key to any primary election is keeping one's own base while expanding into the opponent's. Not wanting to harm his own base support, Bennett decided not to run an ad that some might believe negative. "It's a legitimate issue. But we're finding that so many people are talking about it, are concerned, that the word is out and we don't need to do it," Bennett said.
Cannon has steadfastly defended his spending, saying that Sen. Orrin Hatch spent more than $4 million in 1988 in a race without a primary or significant opposition. He's doing no less on a very tough race, both in the state GOP convention and primary.
"All along, I figured my race was not against Bob Bennett, but against Wayne Owens, a very good fund-raiser and well-known. You can't see the future. If I'd known that Wayne would have the House Bank problems he had in the spring, no, I'd adjust accordingly. But our strategy was set by then," says Cannon.
Should Bennett take the bait and "go negative," Cannon says he's ready for it. "We already have some spots in the can to deal with it. We have some very influential Republicans, known and respected by all, who would be ready to say it's wrong, not what we want in Utah. By the way, they'd say the same thing about me if I went negative. They know the only way we Republicans loose this Senate seat is by cutting each other up."
Cannon said except for those counter advertisements, "all our rockets are off the launch pad, everything is away with no surprises left." Cannon has mailed 300,000 brochures to Utah households, slick productions that talk issues as well as give a flavor of Cannon himself. He's sent about 300,000 turn-out-the-vote postcards that show a picture of a Chinese pro-Democracy demonstrator whose friends died for the right to vote.
And Cannon has sent out thousands of "targeted" mailings, some to the supporters of the arts, others to arch-conservatives, with accompanying endorsements from influential supporters.
Cannon says internal, professionally conducted tracking polls show that as of Wednesday he holds a 9- to 11-point lead over Bennett. "It's been as high as 15 percentage points. It was never closer than what (the Deseret News/KSL-TV) poll showed three weeks ago - 4 percentage points - the low point for us," Cannon says.
Bennett disputes that, saying his polling shows he's closing and that he clearly has momentum.
If you believe Cannon and Bennett, either way, Tuesday will determine the next U.S. senator from Utah.