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Sen. Bob Bennett will endorse Tim Bridgewater in GOP primary race to replace him

Published: Thursday, June 10 2010 10:05 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, will endorse Tim Bridgewater, one of the candidates who ended his bid for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

Bridgewater and Mike Lee defeated Bennett at the state Republican Party Convention last month and will face each other in the party's primary June 22.

Bennett was originally expected to be in Utah on Friday to make the announcement, but it has been rescheduled for Monday, sources told the Deseret News.

Bridgewater, who was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, stopped short Thursday of confirming he had secured Bennett's support.

"I hope by Monday we have a lot of endorsements, from grass-roots workers in the party, to elected officials throughout the state," Bridgewater said.

Bennett's backing, he said, "would send a message that even though we were rivals in the election and I won a strong majority of delegate support, he would agree I ran a respectful race."

Although Bennett's ouster marked the first time in 70 years that a Utah party has dropped an incumbent, Bridgewater said the outgoing senator is now seen as "a senior statesman" who wants what is best for Utah.

Bridgewater said adding Bennett's endorsement to a list that includes another unsuccessful rival for the nomination, Cherilyn Eagar, will inspire confidence in his campaign "so we can have a strong push the last week of the election."

That push will include Bridgewater's first television commercial, scheduled to begin airing Friday. His primary opponent, Lee, has been running ads on TV for more than a week.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said it's not clear whether Bennett's decision to weigh in on the race will help or hurt Bridgewater.

The Bennett endorsement lends credibility to Bridgewater's campaign and can help voters distinguish between two seemingly similar candidates, Burbank said.

But, he added, Lee could exploit the endorsement to suggest he's the candidate who better represents change in Washington.

"What remains unclear is whether that's a big concern of Republican primary voters," Burbank said. "There's an awful lot of uncertainty now about what's going to happen with this primary."

Lee's campaign manager, Jonathan Reid, said Bennett's endorsement of Bridgewater will be an issue — but he's not sure how much it will matter.

"We didn't ever seek his endorsement," Reid said. "We each have our own endorsements, so I won't say it's irrelevant, but I think it becomes less relevant as we move closer to the final vote. What's more important to voters is their stands on the issues and their professional backgrounds."

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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