SALT LAKE CITY — Facing the strong possibility of elimination at the upcoming state GOP convention, Sen. Bob Bennett's campaign pulled out all the stops and spent a huge $271,000 in just the first 18 days of this month.
In comparison, that is almost as much as Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, spent in his entire two-year 2008 congressional race.
Bennett's heavy spending this month also comes on top of the $428,000 that he spent in the first three months of the year (before the party caucuses) — for a total of nearly $700,000 in three and a half months this year.
Candidates were required to file on Monday a 12-day-before-the-convention report with the Federal Election Commission, covering their finances from April 1-18. The Deseret News asked Senate candidates to provide copies, since they are allowed to file by mail and it may be days before the FEC can receive and put their reports online.
Only Bennett, Merrill Cook and Cherilyn Eagar provided copies by the newspaper's deadline. Those who did not were Tim Bridgewater, David Chiu and Mike Lee.
Jeremy Friedbaum told the Deseret News he does not accept donations and spends so little of his own money that he is not required to file. Leonard Fabiano said he did not know that preconvention reports were required.
While Bennett spent $271,000 in the first 18 days of the month, Eagar spent $16,214 and Cook spent $7,902.
Bennett's spending included $114,200 on consulting (mostly for general management of his campaign), nearly $49,000 on broadcast ads (plus another $1,100 on Facebook ads), $22,500 on printing, $8,600 on phone calls to delegates and $6,800 on travel.
He also spent about $6,000 on meals for delegates, trying to ensure that his campaign leaves a good taste in their mouths. He wooed delegates with food at such places as the Dodo Restaurant, Papa John's pizza, Pei Wei and Pizza Boli's.
Cook also took candidates out to eat — but spent only $935 total on it — at such places as Einstein Brothers Bagels, the Old Spaghetti Factory and Golden Corral.
The Senate race is tight. A Dan Jones & Associates poll of state convention delegates by the Deseret News, KSL, the Utah Foundation and the Hinckley Institute of Politics over the weekend showed that 41 percent said they would refuse to vote for Bennett in any round of voting.
That could oust him. In the first round of voting, all but three candidates will be eliminated. The second round will narrow the field to just two, who will compete in the final round. If a candidate can achieve 60 percent of delegates in any round, they become the nominee. Otherwise, the top two will compete in a primary.
"If I can survive the convention, I can win," Bennett said last week. He has such confidence because polls show him leading among all voters, because voters tend to be less conservative than convention delegates, and because he has much more cash than any other candidate — which could allow him to buy much more advertising.
The following is how reports looked in some other contested races in the upcoming May 8 convention:
2nd House District Democrats: Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, spent $25,384 during the first 18 days of the month, raised $12,303, and reported a massive $1.4 million in cash on hand. Challenger Claudia Wright spent a mere $285, raised $6,570 and reported $8,123 in cash.
2nd District Republicans: Morgan Philpot and Neil Walter reported similar spending, while fellow Republican Ed Eliason did not file a report by deadline. Walter spent $11,704 in the first 18 days of the month, raised $7,632 and reported $5,600 in cash. Philpot spent $9,201, raised $11,354, and reported $8,715 in cash.