Bennett, Matheson feeling some party backlash in Utah

Published: Sunday, April 25 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Alyson Heyrend has been around Utah politics for a long time, first as a newspaper and TV reporter, then a public activist, and now as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

But she was not expecting the reception she got at Skyline High School last month.

"There was shouting," she said. "There was booing."

At least unhappy Democratic caucus attendees didn't throw anything.

Supporters of Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, found the same thing at many GOP neighborhood party mass meetings. Those speaking in favor of the long-time senator were heckled. In fact, the crowd booed even at the mention of Bennett's name.

"He's been there long enough. It's time for him to go. He's the king of pork," said Karen Barton, who was elected as a state GOP delegate from her West Valley City precinct. As she blasted Bennett, the 14 other Republicans attending the caucus shook their head in agreement.

No one at that precinct meeting defended Bennett, or any other incumbent for that matter. Instead, they asked their delegates to do what they could to get rid of incumbents and ensure term limits.

Such anger is playing out in towns and party conventions around Utah this year.

At the caucus meeting at Skyline High School last month, Barton promised not to vote for Bennett in the May 8 state convention, although she said she didn't know which of his challengers she would support.

For Bennett and Matheson what's even more troubling is that such opposition is coming not from opposing parties, but from their own party members.

There are anyone-but-Bennett, anyone-but-Matheson websites and Facebook pages. Comments on blogs and media news stories are peppered with complaints — many from the incumbents' own party members — saying Bennett is not conservative enough, or that Matheson isn't liberal enough.

Utah conservatives have taken out after their own before.

Remember the 1988 anti-tax revolt?

Prodded on by talk radio hosts, thousands of residents unhappy with tax hikes adopted by then-GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter rallied at the state Capitol to call for change. Anti-taxers filed for office. Bangerter's re-election hung in the balance.

But in the end Bangerter won a second term. Few legislators were defeated and taxes — in an improving economy — were cut.

For all the smoke, the flames dwindled and went out.

Is 2010 in Utah going to be any different?

Tea party organizers and 9.12ers say yes.

At a Tax Day rally earlier this month, Davis County 9.12 activist Darcy Van Orden said Utahns in support of her group's goals, namely ending deficit spending, downsizing government and asserting states' rights, were going to be a factor this election season.

"People are fed up with the situation we're in, and they're going to do something about it," she said. "Many of the people here today aren't just rally attendees, they're also delegates."

Van Orden's assertion is backed by findings of a new Deseret News and KSL TV poll, run in conjunction with the Utah Foundation and University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Of more than 525 Utah Republican delegates polled, 55 percent said they supported the tea party movement and 9/12 project. Of general Republican voters, 46 percent back the two conservative movements, Dan Jones & Associates found. The poll has a plus or minus 4.17 percent error margin.

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