Utah GOP delegates dump Sen. Bob Bennett at state convention; Bridgewater, Lee to battle in primary

Published: Sunday, May 9 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Polls had shown that a plurality of Utah voters had backed Bennett, even if more conservative state delegates did not. If Bennett had managed to change the vote of just 160 delegates at the convention (out of nearly 3,500), he likely would have survived into a primary and may have been re-elected.

After Bennett's ouster, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he supports the current convention-primary system. But he added "I feel badly" for the GOP voters who now don't get a chance to vote on Bennett.

"But that is the way it is. The process has its pluses and it's minuses. I prefer to dwell on the pluses," Hatch said. "He held some very important positions" in the Senate, "some that no one from Utah has ever held before. But at least we are lucky to have two very good men (Lee and Bridgewater) to chose from now."

Bennett was ousted even though Mitt Romney, the popular former presidential candidate and chief of the 2002 Olympics, pleaded with candidates to support him.

"We need Bob Bennett's skill and intellect and power," Romney said. He called Bennett a man who "America and Utah cannot afford to lose." But Romney and Bennett were met with some boos from the floor.

Bennett himself told delegates they should keep him and his seniority to help protect Utah. He said a vote for him would show that "Utahns are not taken in by special interest groups that tried to take over this campaign," and that they "reject the doomsayers and fear mongers who say this country will fail."

Meanwhile, Lee gave a fiery speech to delegates that attracted many of the loudest cheers.

"Our federal government is too big because the Constitution has been ignored by Congress for too long," he said waving copy of the Constitution.

He added, "We are ready to get government's greedy hand out of our pockets and off of 70 percent of our land" to cheers.

He also said that America's power is not in elected officials or special interests, but "the power of America is in the hands of its people." In the final round, after Bennett was eliminated, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., maybe the nation's most conservative senator, endorse Lee by video and urged delegates to support him.

Meanwhile, Bridgewater told delegates, "Count on me to say no to amnesty (for illegal aliens), no to cap and trade, and no to further funding of the United Nations."

He pledged to use his experience as an entrepreneur and a lover of the Constitution to move the country forward. "I will take a constitutionalist who is also a capitalist," he said. He also said it is not a job for entrenched politicians (like Bennett) or politician lawyers (like Lee).

Bennett's defeat also came amid controversy over a religious-based attack in a last-minute mailer sent to delegates.

That mailer to delegates (sent by a heretofore unknown group called Utah Defenders of Constitutional Integrity) showed a picture of Lee over the LDS Temple and Bennett over a picture of the U.S. Capitol. It then says "Which candidate really has Utah values?"

On the back is a common LDS phrase questioning whether the U.S. Constitution hangs by a thread. It asks delegates to thank Bennett and then vote for anyone other than the incumbent.

Lee denies his campaign sent it.

"It is very offensive. It makes me look like a jerk, which is what it is supposed to do," Lee said. "It hurts (Bennett), too. I don't know who sent it. It is the same picture that went out with a letter that said I got $150,000 in illegal campaign contributions, also not true."

Bennett, who happens to be a former LDS bishop and is a grandson of former LDS President Heber J. Grant, said that he knows it comes from out of state. "They misspelled Utahns on the back page. It has a post mark from Cleveland. I think (the flier) helped me today. This is just more out-of-state people trying to tell Utahns how to vote."

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