PROVO — Don't hold your breath waiting for a debate among the three Republican candidates for Utah's 3rd District congressional seat.
Challenger Matt Throckmorton called Friday for a series of debates focused on immigration issues, including one on the eve of the Republican convention. He also encouraged Rep. Chris Cannon to accept a standing invitation from talk show host Lou Dobbs to debate immigration policy with Throckmorton on CNN.
Neither will happen, nor will Cannon agree to any debates, a spokesman said.
"It's a matter of priorities," said Joe Hunter, Cannon's chief of staff. "We've got very limited time in which to communicate with the thousand or so delegates in the 3rd District that we need to meet with. Essentially, Chris has next week, and that's it, then Chris is back in Congress."
Congress reconvenes April 20. The convention is scheduled for May 8.
Throckmorton accused Cannon of backing out of several planned debates, including at least one that Cannon allegedly proposed. That debate was to take place on a Utah radio station, Throckmorton said, but a Cannon staffer called the morning it was scheduled to say the congressman couldn't make it.
Additionally, Throckmorton said he and his wife recently ran into Cannon and his daughter at a Springville market. He said Cannon agreed then to a debate on immigration policy.
Both Throckmorton and Greg Hawkins hope to garner enough votes from delegates at the convention to force Cannon into a party primary. Throckmorton said Friday he has reserved locations on May 7 in both Salt Lake and Utah counties.
"Whatever makes him comfortable," Throckmorton said, "but he needs to be there."
Cannon wants to focus on meeting with delegates instead, and Hunter denied the charge that Cannon has ducked any debates.
"We didn't have a clue what he was talking about in so far as setting up dates," Hunter said. "If running into someone on the street constitutes a commitment, we're never going to say it didn't happen, but there have been no debates scheduled that we'd agreed to or that we didn't show up for. I'm pretty confident about that."
Cannon has discussed immigration on several national TV shows, including Dobbs'.
"We don't feel the need to go on with Matt and do so again," Hunter said.
Cannon is sponsoring a bill in Congress that would create a guest workers' program for illegal immigrants working in agricultural jobs. For that, Cannon has been attacked via local billboard and radio ads.
Throckmorton said he is not attached to the groups buying the ads, but he is shaping his campaign largely around Cannon's positions on immigration. He said Cannon favors amnesty for illegal immigrants, a characterization that drew a sharp response from Hunter.
"It's not amnesty," Hunter said. "They're claiming we're supporting amnesty. We're not proposing amnesty. It's a very, very strict requirement and provides significant hurdles for an illegal employed in agricultural to come out of the shadows and claim temporary status. I don't think any reasonable person would consider that amnesty."
Cannon's bill has more than 100 co-sponsors in the House and 56 in the Senate, Hunter said.
Cannon's Web site doesn't list his position on illegal immigrants, but Hunter said a statement will be added to the site by Monday.
Throckmorton wants more.
"I told Rep. Cannon, 'If you do a debate with me and you make me look ridiculous, you win,' " Throckmorton said. "And if a majority of Utahns want to do what Chris supports, then he should win."