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Blog Home Page --> Senate -- Utah

Three Races To Watch Today

By Kyle Trygstad

There are three major statewide races on the docket today, one governor's race and two to decide nominations for the Senate. With the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and Congress pushing to finish up business for the August recess, this is the last big day of elections for the next six weeks. Here's a look at the three biggest races of the day:

Utah - Republican Senate Primary

Businessman Tim Bridgewater nearly came out of the early May state party convention with the GOP nomination but fell 3 points shy of the 60 percent needed to avoid a primary. Since then, he's tried to prove his resume as a true conservative, while also collecting some establishment-type endorsements -- with none bigger than Sen. Bob Bennett, whom he defeated at the convention.

Meanwhile, attorney Mike Lee built up some momentum of his own and has collected endorsements from such conservatives as South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, as well as the Tea Party Express.

The two have furiously fought for the last six weeks to distinguish themselves, as they take similar stances on the top issues and entered the race from outside of elected office. One hot topic the Deseret News calls a "sleeper issue" is that of the importation of nuclear waste for disposal, something Lee supports and Bridgewater wants to ban.

A poll released over the weekend found Bridgewater ahead by 9 points with 43 percent of the vote. However, a quarter of voters remain undecided and the nomination is up for grabs.

Continue reading "Three Races To Watch Today" »

No Favorite Yet In Race To Replace Bennett

By Kyle Trygstad

The next senator from Utah will likely be decided in next week's Republican primary between attorney Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater. The two finished on top at last month's state party convention -- ending the Senate career of incumbent Bob Bennett -- and the primary winner will have the general election advantage in the heavily-Republican state.

But with less than a week to go, there is no clear favorite in the race. At least one survey from a well-known local pollster is expected to be released over the weekend, which may provide the clearest sense of a frontrunner -- if there is one -- since the convention.

"A lot of people believe had more of the Bennett supporters stuck around to vote in that last round at the convention, Bridgewater would have won the 60 percent needed to take the nomination," said LaVarr Webb, a political consultant and former journalist in Salt Lake City. "But since the convention, Lee has picked up a little more of the momentum. And it's hard to know what's going to happen."

With the election less than a week away, two important endorsements were rolled out in the last few days. Bennett endorsed Bridgewater on Friday, and a national tea party organization, Tea Party Express, endorsed Lee Tuesday morning.

With little daylight between the candidates on the issues, the Bridgewater campaign has sought to create distance with their resumes. In a Bridgewater TV ad released Monday, the announcer states that the race is "between a businessman and a D.C.-based lawyer." Bennett's endorsement of Bridgewater highlighted that distinction as well.

"I've known Tim Bridgewater for more than a decade, and I am impressed by the fact that he, like me, brings a businessman approach to political issues," said Bennett. "Most of my colleagues in the Senate are lawyers, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but when a legal approach dominates, practical solutions often get pushed aside."

Although Bennett was ousted at the conservative-filled convention, experts in the state say he still appeals to the broad primary voting base. Bridgewater also received the backing last week of the convention's fourth-place finisher, conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar.

Along with Tea Party Express, Lee has gathered several other national conservative endorsements including Sen. Jim DeMint, former Sen. Rick Santorum, RedState.com's Erick Erickson and FreedomWorks, a conservative activist recruiting and training organization chaired by former House Republican Leader Dick Armey.

But while Lee has racked up several key tea party and conservative endorsements, Bridgewater finished first at the convention in early May with 57 percent of the final vote. And that was among some of the most conservative and activist members of the GOP.

"Both candidates come across as very conservative, and their rhetoric is fairly similar," said Webb. "Bridgewater does seem to be picking up more support from more establishment Republicans, and the business community seems to be leaning toward him a little bit more."

Lee went on the air with a TV ad a week earlier than Bridgewater, and that edge may help him in the poll expected out this weekend. While Bridgewater focused on his business experience, Lee, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito and general counsel to former Gov. Jon Huntsman, featured his mantra of being "a true conservative and constitutional expert."

The messaging may be the deciding factor in what's expected to be a low turnout primary. As of now, Webb says, "It's probably pretty close."

Bennett Could Be First Casualty Of Changing National Mood

Utah Sen. Bob Bennett will likely know the fate of his political future by tomorrow, when the state Republican Party holds its nominating convention. It's an interesting twist that in a year when the political winds are at the backs of Republicans nationwide, an entrenched GOP incumbent is facing his most challenging re-election -- in the primary.

It's evidence that voter frustration isn't necessarily a partisan issue. In fact, Bennett is one of five Senate incumbents facing stiff primary challengers: Republicans include Bennett and Arizona's John McCain; Democrats are Colorado's Michael Bennet, Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, who left the GOP to escape a competitive challenge and found another one awaiting him.

That's a relatively high number of incumbents facing legitimate primary challenges, and other establishment-backed challengers across the country are having similar trouble clearing the path for their party's nomination.

"It's a combination of two things: the overall environment and a sort of unrest in both parties," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. "Obviously the focus has been on the GOP and Tea Parties, but there has been evidence of progressives not being happy as well."

Like Bennett, the judgment days for Specter and Lincoln could come this month, with both preparing for May 18 primaries. Even if they win, they'll also face competitive general election races.

As for Bennett, he's up against challengers from the right and a nominating system that puts him at a distinct disadvantage. 3,500 delegates elected in neighborhood caucuses around the state are descending upon Salt Lake City tomorrow for a three-round voting process that could determine the Republican nominee. It puts a great deal of power in the hands of a select group of people.

"Utah has the most exciting Senate race in the country, and less than 1 percent get to vote in it," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "Republican voters in general are not that upset with Sen. Bennett. He would probably win the primary handily and the general election by 30 or 40 points."

Continue reading "Bennett Could Be First Casualty Of Changing National Mood" »

Club for Growth Targets Utah Republican

Club for Growth, the limited government, anti-tax group that most often targets incumbent Democrats, is now taking on Utah Sen. Robert Bennett (R), who co-sponsored a health care bill with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The third-term senator is up for re-election next year, and a number of conservative Republicans are lining up to challenge him in the primary.

"We believe it's important for Senator Bennett's constituents to know that he's pushing for massive tax increases and government-run healthcare," said CfG president Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman. "Empowering bureaucrats at the expense of patients and doctors is the wrong medicine for our health system. It's time for Senator Bennett to scrap his costly government takeover and focus on patient-centered solutions that ensure more Americans have access to real, quality care."

Chocola is also attempting to pressure Bennett from within his own state party. He is sending a letter to the more than 3,000 delegates to next year's state party convention, requesting they "call on" Bennett to drop his bill -- which Chocola says is "in some respects...worse" than the Democrats' plan.

The TV ad in Utah is part of a nationwide $1.2 million ad buy, though it's unknown how much is being spent in Utah.