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Hatch, Bennett get not-so-warm welcome

By Bob Bernick Jr. and Arthur Raymond

Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 14 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

LAYTON — U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both R-Utah, got polite receptions Saturday at the state GOP convention, but both also recognized that some of the rank-and-file delegates weren't pleased with them.

Hatch, at one point in his speech, appeared upset when some delegates applauded as a way of blaming national Republicans, himself included, for the deficit and other problems of the Bush years.

"Don't you believe that B.S.," Hatch said loudly. But some of the 1,800 delegates clearly did.

While many delegates stood and applauded the longtime incumbents (Hatch 33 years, Bennett 15 years), others sat on their hands — not booing, but showing their disapproval through silence.

A few GOP leaders feared a hostile reception (there was none, as outgoing state party chairman Stan Lockhart told the hall not to boo anyone), and steps were made in scheduling and placement to blunt incivility.

Hatch was introduced by well-known conservative Ken Blackwell, who as the keynote speaker had just gotten a long, standing ovation. Blackwell said while he didn't agree with everything Hatch did, "we are all brothers."

And some delegates may have been looking toward welcoming outgoing Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (who upset rank and file with his pro-civil-unions stand) with a Bronx cheer. They didn't get the chance.

Huntsman, soon to be named ambassador to China by Democratic President Barack Obama, didn't show. And a short video of him saying goodbye to the Utah GOP ran before the convention even got going in the Davis County Convention Center, with most delegates talking or milling around in the hall and not listening to him.

Some incumbents were well-received. Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, both R-Utah, and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (running against Bennett) were cheered several times.

Herbert will take over for Huntsman when he's confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Calling himself a true conservative, Herbert said he and Huntsman were a team, have done well, and that he is ready, able and willing to serve for the next 18 months.

Still, while not challenged in their speeches, Hatch and Bennett did get an earful from some delegates as they met with hundreds of them, some standing three or four deep to talk to the congressman.

One example: Hatch was taken to task in a hallway outside by a well-dressed but insistent conservative.

"You say I don't do anything. I do," said Hatch sharply.

"I didn't say that," said the man. "I said I see no evidence that you are doing anything. I'm engaged (in congressional action). I know what is going on. We're $3 billion in debt, and I worry about my four children."

Several candidates for state party office took backhanded stabs at Huntsman.

Civil unions — which Huntsman endorsed earlier this year — "mocks God," said party chair candidate Jude Law.

Vice Chairman Todd Weiler, who failed to win another term, got some cheers when he said civil unions "is one big step in the wrong direction."

While Lockhart got a standing ovation for his two-year term, other party office candidates said the party was too closed, with leaders out of touch with core Republicans.

"There is an abundance of Republicans who want to win at all costs," said vice chairman candidate Morgan Philpot (who won his race). And that lust for power "has led our nation and party to the crisis we face today. (Political leaders) are selling our birth right for a mess of pottage."

Chairman candidate Steve Harmsen (who lost to Dave Hansen) listed a number of issues conservative Republicans stand against, including TARP, the Bush-backed bailout of banks passed last fall. "No on TARP," shouted Harmsen to loud cheers. Bennett and Hatch voted for TARP.

While the convention was held to pick new party leaders, national and local politics and personalities were at play.

Chaffetz, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who got several standing ovations, said he was glad to serve with Bishop in the House (but didn't mention Hatch or Bennett).

"It's campaign time," said Bennett. And on the campaign trail people treat you differently. "You get more rude questions, but I like that," he added, promising to fight hard for his seat next year.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com, araymond@desnews.com

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