Kris Alingod – AHN News Contributor
Salt Lake City, UT, United States (AHN) – The Tea Party Express successfully pushed its candidate to victory in the Republican Senate race in Utah, underscoring the anti-establishment sentiment among voters this election year.
Attorney Mike Lee won the runoff for the GOP nomination with 51 percent, according to unofficial results from the state election office that had 99 percent of precincts reporting. Businessman Tim Bridgewater, who led in polls, conceded with 49 percent.
“They ran hard, they fought hard, and now we are getting behind him as our party’s nominee,” Bridgewater said in a message to supporters.
The runoff was held because neither contender gained at least 60 percent during the state Republican Party’s nominating convention last month. Bridgewater finished first in the convention with 57 percent, followed by Lee with 43 percent, and the incumbent they both defeated, Sen. Bob Bennett, with 27 percent.
Lee is a 38-year-old lawyer who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito but has never been elected to public office. He received endorsements from key conservatives such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) heading into the runoff. He also gained the official support of the Tea Party Express, which used its massive grassroots movement to help him to victory.
Bridgewater had received the support of the leader of the state Tea Party, David Kirkham, who made clear in an open letter on RedState.com, “This past week there have been press releases and campaign advertisements by people and outside groups claiming the Tea Party has endorsed Mike Lee… Some will try to spin the debate between Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee as a rift in the Utah Tea Party. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
No Democratic contender has launched a serious challenge in the race, and Lee, who used his record of constitutional scholarship to appeal to voters, is expected to easily take Bennett’s seat. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the Senate race as “solid Republican.”
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