Utah's Bob Bennett faces stiff political test Saturday
Polling continues to show a deeply anti-incumbent electorate -- just 32 percent of those tested in a recent Washington Post /ABC poll said they would re-elect their Member of Congress -- yet no Senator or House member has lost to date in the 2010 cycle.
That could well change tomorrow as Utah Sen. Bob Bennett (R) enters the state party convention facing deep distrust (and anger) that could well lead to his defeat at the hands of a more aggressive conservative.
There will be three ballots to either pick the nominee or send the top two vote-getters to a June 22 primary. The first ballot will narrow the field from
seven eight to three; the second ballot will slim the field to two. On the final ballot one of the two candidates must take more than 60 percent of the vote to emerge as the nominee.
It's a certainty that Bennett won't be able to win the nomination given the animosity toward him within the Republican rank and file, upset tied to his support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and his years on the Appropriations Committee.
The question is whether Bennett can a) make the final two and then b) get 40 percent or more of the vote to force a primary.
A recent Salt Lake City Tribune poll of convention delegates cast real doubts on Bennett's ability to do either.
Attorney Mike Lee stood at 37 percent while former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater took 20 percent. Bennett stood in third at 16 percent. Roughly one in four likely convention-goers (28 percent) saw Bennett in a favorable light.
Should Bennett fall, he would be the first Senator to lose in a primary since Joe Lieberman (Conn.) in 2006. And, while the defeat will almost certainly be read as a sign of the anger at incumbents nationally, it's also worth remembering that the Utah convention process is unique and has a history of being unfriendly to incumbents.
Below you'll find our rankings of the ten best intraparty fights in the runup to the 2010 election. (Hint: Utah made the Line.) The rankings are based on a race's closeness, the involvement of national parties and committees in it as well as the impact the outcome will have on the overall political landscape.
Agree? Disagree? The comments section awaits.
To the Line!
10. Kentucky Senate (Democratic primary, May 18): Almost entirely overshadowed by the race on the Republican side, the primary fight between Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and state Attorney General Jack Conway is a good one. Conway just dumped $300,000 of his own money into the race after an independent poll released Wednesday showed Mongiardo ahead by seven points. (Previous ranking: 8)
9. California Senate (Republican primary, June 8): Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to wade into the primary on behalf of former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina gives this race a bit more of a national profile. It appears to be a two-person fight between Fiorina and former Rep. Tom Campbell whose lead to date seems based largely on the name identification he built up during unsuccessful bids for Senate in 1992 and 1998. State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore is trying to ride the tea party lightning but has failed to do so to date. (Previous ranking: N/A)
8. New Hampshire Senate (R, Sept. 14): Former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) is finally on television after months of allowing free-spending businessman Bill Binnie to dominate the airwaves. But, Ayotte is also having to fend off questions about her office's involvement (or lack thereof) in the oversight of Financial Resources Management, a failed mortgage company. (Previous ranking: 6)
7. California Governor (R, June 8): Just when it looked like former eBay Meg Whitman had built an impenetrable primary lead over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner there are some signs that the underdog is making up ground. Poizner pollster Neil Newhouse -- the man behind Sen. Scott Brown's victory -- released data earlier this week that showed Whitman ahead 38 percent to 28 percent, a far cry from the 59 percent to 11 percent edge she held in February. "Meg Whitman has been steadily losing voters and doing so at an accelerated rate as GOP voters increasingly begin to focus on this race," wrote Newhouse. Whitman's willingness to spend from her personal fortune can potentially blunt any Poizner momentum but the last month or so of this race is looking to be far more interesting than anyone initially thought it would be. (Previous ranking: N/A)
6. Arizona Senate (R, Aug. 24): A new Research 2000 poll conducted for the liberal Daily Kos blog showed Sen. John McCain with a 48 percent to 36 percent edge over former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. McCain's over-the-top aggression toward Hayworth would seem to suggest the race is closer than that (or that McCain is simply acting out of an abundance of caution). The x-factor in Arizona is whether the primaries that come before it -- Kentucky, for example -- embolden tea party activists to bring down McCain. (Previous ranking: 7)
5. Nevada Senate (R, June 8): Former state Republican party chairwoman Sue Lowden was cruising to the Republican nomination before she decided to advocate for a health care bartering system and then double down on that comment by referencing the olden days when you brought a chicken to your doctor to pay for services. (And, no, we can't believe we wrote that last sentence either.) It's not clear how badly (if at all) the chicken controversy has damaged Lowden but it did serve as a major distraction for a campaign trying to build momentum for the general election against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Previous ranking: 5)
4. Utah Senate (R, convention May 8, primary June 22): Bennett's political career may not survive the weekend. (Previous ranking: 6)
3. Arkansas Senate (D, May 18): Polling suggests that Sen. Blanche Lincoln's is leading over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. But, the real question is whether DC Morrison, the third candidate in the primary, will siphon off enough votes to force Lincoln and Halter into a June 8 runoff. Organized labor and the White House are warring in the race and a number of other national groups -- most notably Americans for Job Security -- are also spending heavily on influencing the outcome. (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Kentucky Senate (R, May 18): The central front of the "establishment vs grassroots/tea party crowd" battle within the GOP is happening in Kentucky. Ophthalmologist Rand Paul has run a surprisingly strong effort fueled by activist energy (and his father's national fundraising list) while Secretary of State Trey Grayson has relied on the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Rep. Hal Rogers (Ky.) to build momentum. Polling is all over the map in this race although it's hard not to see Paul as the favorite at the moment. (Previous ranking: 3)
1. Pennsylvania Senate (D, May 18): It took longer than we thought but the race between Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak is finally living up to its potential. Specter has attacked Sestak's military credentials while Sestak is up on television now with a devastatingly effective ad that reminds voters of the Senator's long Republican roots and paints his party switch as entirely opportunistic. Polls suggest Sestak is closing the gap. (Previous ranking: 4)
May 7, 2010; 1:21 PM ET
Categories: The Line
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