From TALKING POINTS MEMO:
Sen. Bob Bennett’s (R-UT) political life is on the line tomorrow, with a state Republican convention that has the power to deny him even any chance to fight for the GOP nomination in a primary — and a party base that has been dissatisfied and sees him as being too settled in Washington after three terms.
Bennett, who for his part has a conservative voting record, has been targeted for defeat by the right for not being conservative enough. In addition to grassroots angst with his vote for the TARP bailout, the Club For Growth has also targeted him for having briefly worked with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) on a health care bill, though he ultimately voted against the bill that passed a month and a half ago.
Bennett faces a total of seven challengers at the convention, but three are the most significant: Attorney Mike Lee, businessman Tim Bridgewater, and businesswoman Cherilyn Eagar. A Mason-Dixon poll from two weeks ago, of a sample of convention delegates, gave Lee 37%, Bridgewater 20%, and Bennett only 16%, with Eagar at 11%.
Under the rules of the Utah GOP, a candidate with 60% of the convention vote will be nominated outright, with no primary. Voting is conducted by secret ballot over three rounds, which will narrow the field of candidates down from eight names, to three, and then to two candidates for a final vote. If the 60% super-majority is not reached, then the final two contenders will meet in a primary.
Salt Lake City, Utah (CNN) — Three-term Republican Sen. Bob Bennett knew this would be a tough year to run for re-election. He just had no idea how tough.
Bennett faces the real possibility of failing even to make it to a primary, depending on the results of the state’s GOP convention Saturday.
The 76-year-old incumbent is facing off against seven challengers, all of whom are more conservative.
One of the key men leading the effort to oust Bennett is political newcomer David Kirkham, who last year founded the state’s Tea Party chapter. He wants to punish the senator for his vote to authorize the 2008 financial bailout.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘conservative.’ I think it’s a matter of fiscal or financial responsibility,” Kirkham said. “What the Tea Party people are about and the vote for [the Troubled Asset Relief Program] and the vote for the bailout was, in our opinion, pretty fiscally irresponsible, and that’s what’s raised the ire of most people.”
Asked whether he thought Bennett should lose his seat over that one vote, Kirkham said, “That one vote was pretty toxic. That one vote affected a lot of things, changed the rules of the game. President Bush said that where we have to abandon free market principles to save the free market, and fundamentally, we just don’t agree. There’s just no way.”
Bennett said he doesn’t regret his vote, “because we were facing a very genuine crisis.
Bennett is no moderate. He regularly receives high marks from conservative groups including the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life Committee. He voted against the president’s stimulus plan and the administration’s health care proposal.
Other delegates are disappointed that Bennett was unable to stop the Democrats’ health care bill from becoming law, though Bennett and his GOP colleagues did everything they could to thwart it.
Bennett’s fate could be decided Saturday, when 3,500 GOP delegates cast ballots at the party convention. In order to make it onto the November ballot, a candidate must get 60 percent of the vote. If no one reaches that threshold, the top two will face off in a June 22 primary.
Various polls show Bennett running second or third. Front-runner Mike Lee is campaigning on a platform committed to limited government and a closer adherence to what he believes to be the meaning of the Constitution.
Also polling in the top tier entrepreneur is Tim Bridgewater, who along with Lee has done concerted outreach to Tea Party activists.