Incumbency encumbers Utah senator

May 7, 2010

By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times

Sometimes politicians just wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Think House Democrats running for re-election in 1994, or Senate Republicans in 2008.

That may be the best explanation for the predicament now facing Sen. Robert F. Bennett, whose 18-year Senate career may come to a close Saturday at the Utah Republican convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

Mr. Bennett, 76, is running third behind two of his GOP rivals, lawyer Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater, in an April 25 survey of 400 convention delegates conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for the Salt Lake Tribune.

“I just don’t see Bennett getting out of the convention,” said Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon managing director. “Running as a career politician is dangerous right now, especially if you’ve got to deal with a lot of conservative activists.”

Which Mr. Bennett does.

Under Utah’s primary system, a candidate is chosen not by the voters at large, but by 3,500 Republican delegates. A candidate must receive 60 percent of the delegate vote to clinch the GOP nomination. If no candidate receives 60 percent, then the top two vote-getters face off in a June 22 primary.

The three-term Republican is hardly a “squish” – he enjoys a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 88 percent and has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association – but he’s been tarred as a moderate for his vote in favor of the bank bailout. His proposed health care plan, presented as an alternative to Obamacare, has come under fire for its requirement that all Americans buy health insurance.

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