Tim Bridgewater Wins!
(The Wall Street Journal) – Overthrow a Sign of Tea-Party Clout
Republican officials sought to unify the party after Saturday’s tea-party driven ouster of three-term Utah Sen. Robert Bennett.
Mr. Bennett became the year’s first victim of the anti-incumbent fervor sweeping through the Republican Party when he lost his bid for his party’s nomination at a state GOP convention here. GOP activists blasted him as a Washington insider who had lost touch with Utah’s conservative ideals and will instead nominate a tea party-backed populist candidate who promises to reduce the scope of the federal government.
The GOP candidate hasn’t yet been chosen, but it will be one of Mr. Bennett’s two challengers, businessman Tim Bridgewater and lawyer Mike Lee, both favored by the tea party and who will face off in a June 22 primary. The winner will be favored to win the general election in this heavily Republican state.
Mr. Bennett has missed the filing deadline to run as an independent contestant, but he can run as a write-in candidate. In congratulating his two opponents he appeared not to be favoring that option, and a Bennett spokeswoman on Sunday said a write-in campaign was unlikely.
Following the loss, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, also chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement saying the committee would “wholeheartedly support the Republican candidate that primary voters in Utah ultimately choose as their nominee.” Other GOP senators such as Jim DeMint of South Carolina went so far as to endorse Mr. Lee in the Utah primary.
The rush to embrace a likely tea-party backed candidate in Utah show how Republican politicians are increasingly having to pay attention to the clout of the movement. As several other states prepare to hold primaries in coming weeks, the Bennett race offers an early gauge of the tea party’s power, though Utah’s voting peculiarities make the measure imprecise.
Favorites of the Republican establishment, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Senate candidate Trey Grayson of Kentucky, face intra-party challenges and questions about their conservatism from the tea party.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday that the tea party was pushing GOP candidates back to the party’s core principles. “We need Republicans who are ideologically committed to standing up against that,” Mr. Giuliani said of President Barack Obama’s agenda, “and really moving us in a different direction. I think that’s what you see going on with the tea party movement.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said the ouster shows the GOP has “handed the reigns to the tea party,” which would see Sen. Bennett as “too liberal, just goes to show how extreme the tea party is.”
In an interview Thursday before he lost his nomination bid, Mr. Bennett said that while the tea party would benefit the GOP in some states, it might hurt them in others. As an example he cited Nevada, where both a Republican and a third-party candidate backed by the tea party are running against Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He said the two challengers could split the anti-Reid vote and give the senator another term.
Mr. Bennett’s defeat was stunning for several reasons. Sitting senators are rarely ousted in intra-party races before November elections. Mr. Bennett had been popular in Utah, winning his third term in 2004 with 69% of the vote. On top of that, he earned top grades from conservative advocacy groups.
The senator was ultimately felled because of questions over his conservatism. He voted for the 2008 bank rescue and co-authored a bipartisan health-care proposal that included a requirement for individuals to buy insurance. Utah’s unusual nominating system was another factor.
In Utah, candidates must secure the approval of their party’s delegates, who are more ideological than typical voters, before advancing to a primary election.
At Saturday’s state GOP convention, Mr. Bennett was ousted in the second of three rounds of delegate voting. He finished third out of three candidates, securing just 27% of the vote; only the two top vote-getters advanced to the primary election. The result’s announcement drew a roar from the crowd of 3,500 delegates.
“The political atmosphere, obviously, has been toxic and it’s very clear that some of the votes I have cast have added to the toxic environment,” a teary-eyed Mr. Bennett told reporters minutes after the vote. “Looking back on them … I wouldn’t have cast any of them any differently, even if I had known at the time they were going to cost me my career.”
Mr. Bennett lost despite appeals throughout the day. In a speech before the first vote, he had 2008 presidential candidate and Utah hero Mitt Romney introduce him. In a speech, he argued that his seniority in the Senate made him the best-suited candidate. “Don’t take a chance on a newcomer,” he said.
The senator’s arguments weren’t enough to woo delegates such as Carol Jeppson. “He’s voted for things that don’t feel as if it goes with the way our Utah people think,” said the 72-year-old retired nurse.