Chaffetz considers challenging Bennett

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz says several GOP state convention delegates are urging him to challenge fellow Republican Sen. Bob Bennett for his seat next year, and Chaffetz is keeping the door open to that possibility.

"I don't have any intention of doing that (running against Bennett)" now, he told the Deseret News. "But I guess I like to keep my options open. Never say never."

Of course, phrasing it that way only fuels speculation that he may challenge Bennett, especially if some sort of draft-Chaffetz movement emerges, even though he says he is focusing for now on seeking re-election to the House.

But, "I'm not going to close the door fully" to opposing Bennett, he said. In part, he says that's because he has seen the sometimes frosty reception that Bennett and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have received among generally conservative state delegates, while he says delegates cheer him.

"I see the dynamics. I see how the crowds react. I see what happens during the parades and the convention," he said.

"I understand people are still fed up with what's happening in Washington, D.C. They're terribly frustrated, and I'd like to think in a small way we've offered hope to a lot of people that we can return to our conservative roots, and that's inspiring and exciting to a lot of voters, not just delegates," Chaffetz said.

He added, "There's a lot of encouragement for me to do that" (take on Bennett).

When asked what type of people are giving such encouragement, he said, "Voters, delegates. There are a lot of people who are excited about what we are doing and the message we're taking and the amount of national media exposure we're getting as being out there talking about these pertinent issues."

Among media attention he attracted includes an ongoing CNN series following him and another freshmen House member, plus appearances on "The Colbert Report" comedy show, the "Glenn Beck" show and Fox News. He gained much attention for choosing to live in his office and sleep on his cot, and to offer "cot-side" chats on issues via the Internet.

While opening the door a bit to a possible Senate run, Chaffetz repeatedly stressed that "my only intention is to be the best congressman I can. I know if I work hard, vote right and do a good job of communicating, great things will happen."

Chaffetz has publicly split with Bennett and Hatch on several issues. For example, when the Deseret News editorial board asked him in April what he thought about the two senators amid such disagreements, he squirmed a bit and said, "They are good people. But on various issues, we just disagree."

He then ticked off a long list of those disagreements including the financial institution bailout and a bill that Hatch sponsored with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to spend $5.7 billion to boost national service programs.

"The D.C. voting-rights bill is another one," Chaffetz said, where the District of Columbia and Utah would be given additional House seats. He contends it is unconstitutional, saying House seats are supposed to go to states, and D.C. is not a state. Bennett supported it in past years, but opposed it this year saying he too became convinced it is unconstitutional.

Chaffetz also may not have helped the two senators by the way he responded to an editorial board question about whether they may have been in Washington too long and captured by its culture.

"I think in general, as a sweeping generalization, you should get in, serve and get out," he said. "Congress and the Senate were never intended to be a lifetime appointment." Hatch has served in the Senate for 32 years, and Bennett for 16.

Of course, many others have already chosen to take on Bennett in what is a crowded field. Republicans challenging him include Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater, businesswoman Cherilyn Eagar and small-business owner James Russell Williams III. Democrat Sam Granato also is a candidate.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com

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