Yet another fellow Republican is looking at challenging Sen. Bob Bennett next year — Tim Bridgewater, who had been running for state GOP chairman.
"I would much rather play on the court than coach from the bench or referee," Bridgewater told the Deseret News on Monday, declining to elaborate further.
On Tuesday, Bridgewater announced, "Today I have asked the Utah GOP to remove my name for consideration for state party chair in order to explore a run for rederal office" on his Twitter account, "The Raspy Voice."
The two-time candidate for Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson's 2nd-District seat is reportedly talking to lawmakers and party officials about running against Bennett in 2010. He has been campaigning at county conventions throughout the state to succeed Utah GOP Chairman Stan Lockhart.
Another Republican eyeing the race is Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Shurtleff, who is in Israel this week on a trade mission with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., has said he's made up his mind about the race and will announce his decision on May 20.
Bennett has already acknowledged that his bid for a fourth term will be his "toughest ever." His conservative credentials are under attack by those in his party unhappy with federal stimulus spending.
"I think it's too soon to write Sen. Bennett's obituary," said state GOP vice chairman Todd Weiler. But he said he wouldn't be surprised if Bridgewater made another run for public office. "Tim is a very capable guy. Very impressive. I think he's very likable. He's young, he's got a lot of very good ideas and he has a lot of connections in the political world."
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said all incumbents are vulnerable right now, not just Bennett. He said the strategy behind a Bridgewater candidacy could be that "someone new and fresh might have the best chance to take advantage of this anti-Washington feeling."
Or, Jowers said, it could be that Bridgewater's run for the party chairmanship wasn't faring well.
"The chatter was that Hansen was going to win. It may only say that Bridgewater is looking for another place to run," he said. "It may also be that Shurtleff is not as daunting, and others are willing to mix it up as well."
Bridgewater's expected withdrawal from the chairmanship race would leave two other contenders for the top state party job, Dave Hansen and Steve Harmsen. Hansen is a political consultant to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Harmsen is a former Salt Lake County Council member.
Bridgewater was seen as Huntsman's choice for the party post. He served as a volunteer education adviser in the governor's first term. Both he and Huntsman backed Arizona Sen. John McCain's unsuccessful presidential run, with Bridgewater working as McCain's Western states coordinator.
While McCain won the party's nomination, it was former Salt Lake Olympic leader Mitt Romney who took the state's GOP presidential primary last year with 90 percent of the vote. Romney has already made campaign appearances for Bennett, raising some $225,000 for the senator at a Little America fundraiser last month.
Bridgewater still has a Web site up touting his run for the party chairmanship, timbridgewater.com. "I am committed to making sure the Utah Republican Party remains strong and true to its core principles," he states on the site's home page.