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August Miller, Deseret News
Michael S. Lee

With Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's exit from the U.S. Senate contest, two other Republicans are looking seriously at a race against Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

Mike Lee and Fred Lampropoulos are both weighing their chances at unseating the 18-year incumbent next year, the Deseret News has been told.

Lee served as legal counsel to former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and Lampropoulos ran for governor in 2004.

Lee declined comment Monday on his political plans. But a top Republican said, "I think he's in."

Lee is a constitutional scholar who has twice clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. He now practices law in Salt Lake City. Most recently, he has been conducting a series of lectures on the U.S. Constitution.

Lampropoulos is the founder and CEO of Merit Medical, an international medical equipment supply firm located in Salt Lake County.

Lampropoulos just two weeks ago told the Deseret News that he would not be a candidate in 2010 for governor or the U.S. Senate, but said he may well run for high office in 2012.

"But my time frame has moved up," he said Monday.

Shurtleff's departure — he got out of the race because of health concerns of a daughter — and the fact that Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has told party insiders he won't challenge Bennett next year, has opened the door for Lee, Lampropoulos and perhaps a few more well-known Republicans.

Lampropoulos said he'll decide whether to run within 10 days.

"I'm being encouraged to (run), from legislators, business and civic leaders," Lampropoulos said. It is still "a tough decision." Running would take time away from his business and family, he said. But he said he doesn't care who else is in the race.

Like 2004, Lampropoulos said he'd spend some of his own money, but concentrate on fundraising, as well. "I made an investment" in 2004 by becoming known in a high-profile statewide race. "And that investment has paid off."

Unlike Lampropoulos, Lee does not have large personal wealth, and so he would have to compete with the well-financed Bennett in fundraising.

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Bennett has a TV ad running now, a year out from the election. He's spent around $545,000 on his race already and has around $792,000 in the bank.

Lampropoulos spent several million dollars of his own money on his 2004 gubernatorial race, but failed to get out of the GOP state convention. Since that time he and his company have been large financial supporters of GOP candidates in Utah.

Other announced candidates in the U.S. Senate race are Republicans Cherylin Eagar, Tim Bridgewater and James Russell Williams III. Democrat Sam Granato also is running.

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com