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Sen. Bob Bennett loses nomination battle at Utah GOP convention

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lost his bid for a fourth term today after being eliminated in the second ballot of Utah's Republican convention. Bennett came in third with 26% of the vote behind businessman Tim Bridgewater with 37% and lawyer Mike Lee with 36%.

The strong showing for Bridgewater came as a surprise, as national conservatives -- including FreedomWorks -- have strongly supported Lee. But Cherilyn Eagar, a Republican activist who was knocked out on the first ballot, had vocally opposed Lee, and her votes largely went to Bridgewater. But Bennett was never able to overcome an anti-incumbent sentiment in the GOP base. In his speech after coming third in the first round, Bennett pleaded for delegates to consider which candidate had the most influence in Washington.

"Don't take a chance on a newcomer," said Bennett. "There's too much at stake."

That message fell flat with Utah Republicans, who now face a choice between two conservative activists who have never held elective office. Bennett's only option to continue his political career is, as he told the Associated Press, an unprecedented write-in campaign. At this hour, it's unclear if he'll proceed.

Bridgewater and Lee will battle it out at the convention for the right to a flat-out win. If one candidate gets 60% of the vote, he is the nominee. If neither candidate does, they will face each other in a June primary. Notably, Lee gave his one-minute time for a pre-ballot speech to a video from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who called Bennett a "friend who's made a difference" before endorsing the lawyer and first-time candidate.

Below the fold is the reaction of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the NRSC.

I commend my colleague Bob Bennett for his tremendous service to the people of Utah during his 17 years in the United States Senate, and I thank him for his professionalism, integrity, and friendship. Senator Bennett has long exemplified the strong values and deep work ethic of his state, and he has fought tirelessly for lower taxes and limited government on behalf of Utah’s best interests.

This has been an open and spirited process and I want to be clear that the NRSC will wholeheartedly support the Republican candidate that primary voters in Utah ultimately choose as their nominee. I am confident that this Senate seat remains in Republican control this November.

By David Weigel  |  May 8, 2010; 4:36 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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Next: FreedomWorks: 'We're going to build on this momentum'

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