Don't forget Utah!
By Amy Gardner
Super Duper Tuesday Primary Day has focused political geekdom on 12 states, including Arkansas, Virginia and Nevada. But lest we forget: Today is also the first day of early voting in Utah's Republican Senate primary.
That's right -- Utahns (yes, that's how they spell it out there) are getting ready to pick the Republican they want to replace U.S. Sen. Robert F. Bennett, the three-term senator from Salt Lake City who was ousted at the state convention last month. Bennett lost largely on a wave of anti-incumbent, pro-tea party anger, but the strength of the tea party is still being tested -- and will be until the June 22 primary, when the convention's top two vote-getters, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, will face off head to head.
Lee has earned the endorsement of FreedomWorks, a national tea party group that has been heavily involved in training volunteers and organizing a grassroots base in Utah. But it was the conservative Bridgewater who won the convention with 57 percent of the vote on the third and final round of balloting, despite criticism from Lee fans for supporting an expansion of Medicare's prescription drug coverage. If Bridgewater's momentum carries him across the finish line in two weeks, the tea party will undoubtedly be asked to answer for its failure to deliver its preferred candidate.
Dave Hansen, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said Tuesday that he expects turnout in the Republican primary to be heavier than usual this year because of antipathy to Washington and the attention that Bennett's defeat drew. But he said it's impossible at this early date to predict who will win.
"One reporter asked me, 'Is this going to get ugly?'" Hansen said. "I said, 'Not really. I don't think they've got the time or the money to make this ugly.'"
In addition to the dubious distinction of becoming the tea party's first scalp, Bennett also became the first incumbent of any party to fall this year, with Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan (W. Va.) and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania following suit. Another incumbent could fall tonight, when the fate of Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas will be decided in that state's Democratic primary.
Bennett's defeat was attributed largely to the energy surrounding the national tea party movement, and activists cheered his defeat as a first step in building momentum for other races around the nation (including the Kentucky U.S. Senate primary a few days later, which tea party favorite Rand Paul also won).
Bennett was targeted primarily for voting for then-President George W. Bush's bank bailout measure in 2008 and, more recently, for working with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on a health-care overhaul bill. He took heat for reneging on his campaign promise in 1992 to serve just two terms. He is also a close adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and he sits on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which opened him to blame for ballooning government spending.
Meanwhile, Hansen said Tuesday that one of the leading opponents of Bennett's reelection, Utah tea party activist Dave Kirkham, asked Hansen to arrange a meeting for him with the lame-duck senator. "He went in and met with him," Hansen recalled, "and he came out of there praising Bob Bennett. He said: 'What a wonderful guy.'"
June 8, 2010; 6:20 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Election , 44 The Obama Presidency
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