Undecideds run high in Utah Senate primary
Former Congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater holds a nine-point lead over businessman Mike Lee heading into Tuesday's Utah Senate Republican primary, according to a poll released over the weekend.
Bridgewater leads Lee 42 percent to 33 percent in the Desert News/KSL-TV poll, which surveyed 581 "highly likely" Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of 4 percent.
The most telling number in the poll, though, is that one in four primary voters remain undecided, an unusually high number that speaks to the difficulty voters could be having differentiating between the two candidates -- or even knowing who they are.
While the 3,500 -- or so -- attendees of last month's state convention were the most active voters in the state, there is a far broader (and less active/well informed) electorate in the primary. Roughly 10 percent of registered voters -- or 140,000 people -- are expected to turn out.
In that broader primary electorate, neither Lee, a former general counsel to former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., or Bridgewater who has lost two races for the 2nd district Republican nomination over the past decade, are well known -- making it tough for less engaged voters to differentiate between the two.
With similarly conservative stances on the issues, the biggest gap between Bridgewater and Lee is in the organizations lining up behind the two men.
Bridgewater is backed by Sen. Bob Bennett (R) who was ousted in his bid for renomination at the state convention. It remains to be seen whether the senator, who was ousted in part for his support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008, will be more of an asset or a liability in the race.
Bridgewater has also been endorsed by Cherilyn Eagar, another former rival for the Republican nod, and has enjoyed more local establishment support.
Lee, meanwhile, has won the backing of national tea party organizations including FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Express; he's also been endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a leader among conservatives nationally. DeMint's endorsement, which came after the second convention ballot that eliminated Bennett, didn't sway the third ballot results as Bridgewater led 57 percent to 42 percent. (It takes 60 percent for a candidate to avoid a primary.)
Interestingly, the Club for Growth, which played a major role in defeating Bennett has stayed out of the primary race entirely.
Local tea party groups, too, have largely avoided getting involved, citing the fact that both candidates are on their side on the issues.
The winner will be a safe bet to replace Bennett. Restaurant owner Sam Granato (D) is the Democratic nominee, but the Beehive State has not had a Democratic senator since 1976.
-- Felicia Sonmez
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