The Right Targets Utah's Bennett
by Charles Lemos, Sun Nov 15, 2009 at 03:48:18 PM EST
While Utah no longer wears the crown of America's reddest state and despite some minor Democratic inroads, the Beehive state remains a hotbed of conservatism. The state is also emerging as one of the more improbable battlegrounds for the future of the GOP. To some on the rabid right, that future does not include Senator Bob Bennett who after three terms in office is facing his stiffest primary challenge. At least three have already lined to challenge Senator Bennett with perhaps more in the wings.
Today, Erick Erickson of Red State blogged that "defeating Bennett in the Utah Republican Convention should be a high priority for conservatives considered [sic] about the leftward drift of the Republican Party." The considerate but unconcerned Erickson cites a local source suggesting that defeating Bennett is feasible.
A well-placed Utah GOP source said the conservative movement could really have an impact in the state, especially if the Tea Party movement, the 9/12ers and the Patrick Henry Caucus can settle on one candidate.
"This is tailor-made for those folks," the source said. "This is a state where those people can make a difference, and quite honestly, they do not like Bennett."
Another group that could join the cause is the Club for Growth. After endorsing Marco Rubio over Gov. Charlie Crist this week in Florida's GOP Senate primary, the group will continue to monitor Utah.
The Club has already contacted potential delegates several times and run $100,000 worth of ads against Bennett's healthcare plan.
Why is Bennett even a target? After all, he has won re-election by landslide margins. On the other hand, he has alienated hard core conservatives with a number of stances. In 2005, he opposed a constitutional amendment banning flag burning -- an effort spearheaded by his home-state GOP colleague Senator Orrin Hatch. A year later, he was a vocal supporter of then-President George W. Bush's push for comprehensive immigration reform. And last year, he voted for the TARP that bailed out Wall Street banks and perhaps even more egregiously for the Tea Party set he offered his own bipartisan healthcare legislation, "Healthy Americans Act" (S. 334), with Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. Trying to solve problems is apparently a bridge too far for some conservatives.
There's another problem for Bennett. While the Bennett family name goes a long way in Utah politics: his father, Wallace Bennett, served four terms in the Senate, and his grandfather was a president of the Latter-day Saints Church, there is also a sense of entrenchment. For 41 of the past 60 years, the Bennetts pere et fils have held a Senate seat from Utah. Talk about an American aristocracy.
Then there's the increasing anti-incumbent environment. From the Los Angeles Times:
As last week's elections showed, the 2010 campaign is shaping up as another driven by a deep, throbbing anger against the political establishment. President Obama has been a prime target at rowdy town hall meetings and "tea party" protests, and Democrats certainly have much to fear, as they hold the majority in Congress. But the free-floating hostility may pose a danger to members of both parties.
"This is not a Democrat problem. It's not a Republican problem. It's an incumbent problem," said Cherilyn Eagar, one of three Republicans, so far, taking on Bennett. "It's on both sides of the aisle."
A national poll issued this week reflected that sentiment. Only about half of the registered voters interviewed, 52%, said they would like to see their representative reelected next year, among the most negative findings in two decades of Pew Research surveys.
Eagar and others, boosted by the conservative Club for Growth, cite Bennett's extended time in Washington and criticize his willingness to work with Democrats on issues such as healthcare reform and the Wall Street rescue approved amid last year's financial crisis.
"People are fed up with the way Washington has historically conducted its business: horse-trading and giving this to get that," said Tim Bridgewater, another Republican running for Bennett's seat.
So far Democratic Representative Jim Matheson who represents parts of Salt Lake City, its suburbs and a good chunk of rural Utah, has ruled out a Senate bid. But that may change.
Another possibility is Ross 'Rocky' Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City.