PROVO Laura Bush is campaigning for Utah Congressman Chris Cannon.
With both Cannon and challenger John Jacob poised to release television ads, the first lady recorded a phone message last week asking Republicans in Utah's 3rd District to vote for Cannon in the party's June 27 primary.
"We need Chris in Congress so he can continue securing our borders, protecting our families and helping make the president's tax relief permanent," Bush said in the message, which hasn't been released yet.
Word of the White House endorsement leaked to the Jacob camp over the weekend through a Republican Party channel.
"The president apparently is going to come out to support Chris," Jacob said Sunday during a debate on KUTV.
The first lady could be a powerful ally among Republicans in Utah, where President Bush's approval ratings are higher than nearly anywhere else in the nation. He had a 65 percent approval rating last month among voters registered in the 3rd District, according to a poll done by Dan Jones & Associates.
"My guess is she's over 70 percent," Jones said Sunday. "That will help Cannon. How much, we really don't know. Sometimes you can really translate popularity and sometimes you can't."
A White House endorsement is rare in a primary, Jones said. "It's unusual for the White House or influential members of Congress to get involved in the primary election of a state Congressional district."
Jacob campaign consultant Hayden Hill called the move a sign the race is tightening. "Obviously (Cannon) knows he's vulnerable, and he's bringing out the big guns," Hill said.
The first lady's message is a part of a Cannon campaign strategy to record dozens of local leaders and use the recordings in phone calls to likely voters.Bush's message will go to a broader range of potential voters. The first lady's message is short, and campaign manager Nathan Rathbun said the Cannon campaign has not decided when to start dialing up phone numbers with it.