Published May 08, 2010
Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah has been ousted in his bid to serve a fourth term after failing to make it out of the Utah GOP convention.
Attorney Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater are the remaining Republican candidates after Saturday's vote. After a third round of voting, neither nominee received 60 percent of the vote, so both will head to the Utah primary on June 22.
Bennett was a distant third in the second round of voting among nearly 3,500 delegates, netting about 27 percent of the vote.
Wiping away tears, Bennett called the political atmosphere "toxic" and said it's, "Clear some of the votes I've cast have added to that toxic environment, looking back with one or two minor exceptions, I wouldn't cast any any differently, even if I knew it would cost me my career."
The three-term senator was targeted by Tea Party activists and other groups for supporting the first traunch of TARP, or Troubled Assets Relief Program.
Bennett, 76, is the first incumbent to lose his seat in Washington this year.
Critics also say Bennett broke a promise he made during his initial campaign to only serve two terms. He was vying for his fourth term.
Aides to Bennett blame outside groups for "distorting" his position on multiple issues, such as the auto bailouts, the stimulus and health care reform. Bennett voted against all of those measures.
Bennett isn't the only Republican lawmaker in trouble as other moderate candidates across the country find themselves being abandoned by GOP voters in favor of those backed by Tea Party activists, such as with Senate races in Arizona, Kentucky and New Hampshire.
In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist decided to run for Senate as an independent rather than face an almost certain primary defeat at the hands of Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio, Florida's former state House speaker.
DNC Chairman Tim Kaine emphasized the Tea Partiers' role in recent primary politics.
"This is just the latest battle in the corrosive Republican intra-party civil war that has resulted in the Tea Party devouring two Republicans in just as many weeks," Kaine said. "If there was any question before, there should now be no doubt that the Republican leadership has handed the reigns to the Tea Party."
Bennett's seven Republican rivals contend he no longer has the credentials to represent "ultraconservative" Utah.
Lee, 38, and Bridgewater, 49, have campaigned largely by saying they're better suited to pare down government spending than Bennett.
"I will fight every day as your U.S. senator for limited government, to end the cradle-to-grave entitlement mentality, for a balanced budget, to protect our flag, our borders and our national security and for bills that can be read before they receive a final vote in congress," Lee said in his convention speech.
The opposition to Bennett is specific, and can't be chalked up solely to a general anti-incumbency fervor. Neither of Utah's two Republican congressmen are at risk of losing their seats, and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert doesn't have any serious challengers.
But Bennett's vote to bail out Wall Street left many Republicans feeling he had become too much of a Washington insider. He's also come under fire for co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill mandating health insurance coverage and for aggressively pursuing earmarks.
In Arizona, Sen. John McCain is in a tough primary fight against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a conservative talk-radio host. In Kentucky, Rand Paul, the son of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, is gaining momentum in his challenge against the GOP establishment's pick of Secretary of State Trey Grayson to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.