In Utah's 3rd Congressional District race, where immigration has become the hot topic, registered voters, too, are split over the choice of comprehensive immigration reform or laws that merely enhance enforcement, according to a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found 47 percent of those surveyed support combining enforcement with creating an avenue toward legal status for illegal immigrants, while 44 percent prefer enforcement-only. But the 4 percent margin of error in the survey makes the difference between the two stances too close to call.

The poll of 617 registered voters in the district, which includes western Salt Lake County, most of Utah County and central Utah, was conducted June 19-22. Five percent said they do not prefer either option, and 4 percent said they don't know.

The U.S. House and Senate are at a stalemate over the two approaches to addressing the volatile issue of illegal immigration. The House proposal focuses on tougher border security and bolstered enforcement of immigration laws, while the Senate passed legislation that would also add a method for many of the nation's 12 million immigrants to earn legal status, and eventually, citizenship.

The same survey found incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon with a 46 percent to 33 percent lead over challenger John Jacob, with 18 percent undecided, heading into Tuesday's GOP primary.

Jones said he was surprised the numbers supporting enforcement-only weren't higher. He said the numbers could be due to the complexity of the issue, and he noted that "if even Congress can't get it straight," how can voters?

"There are so many facets," he said. "They understand a wall, they understand sending illegal immigrants back. They're not clear on what amnesty means, or guest worker." Guest worker proposals would devise a method for illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. without penalties.

The candidates are in a dead heat among those who support enforcement-only, with 42 percent saying they'd vote for Jacob, while 41 percent support Cannon. But Cannon gets the nod from 56 percent of those surveyed, who favor comprehensive reform, compared to just 22 percent for Jacob.

The 3rd District race has been eyed as a proving ground for fall congressional elections, in which immigration is expected to be a key issue as Democrats attempt to retake control of the House of Representatives.

Money from stakeholders outside of Utah has been flowing into both 3rd District campaigns. By Tuesday's primary, Team America, a conservative PAC based in Washington, D.C., will have pumped just over $50,000 into radio ads targeting Chris Cannon, said Bay Buchanan, the PAC's chairwoman.

Jacob was endorsed by two other national anti-illegal immigration groups Friday: 9/11 Families for a Secure America and Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee.

Meanwhile, Cannon has garnered endorsements from President Bush and first lady Laura Bush and has received more than $58,000 from pro-immigration groups, particularly business PACs whose members employ immigrants.


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com