SALT LAKE CITY — Jim Bennett made his cinematic debut with a bit part in the forgettable Mormon movie "The Home Teachers" in 2004.
A theater major at the University of Southern California, Bennett had designs on becoming a "world-famous" actor. But after graduation from USC and an MBA from BYU, he spent more time on the business side of productions at the Pink Garter in Jackson Hole and Tuacahn in St. George than on stage.
His big chance on the silver screen came because he and the moviemaker lived in the same LDS Church ward. He plays the father of a family the home teachers visit where madcap mishaps ensue.
Bennett, 49, concedes it wasn't a very good movie, though at least one person found his turn memorable. A man later eyed him at wedding reception and said, "Aren't you the guy from 'The Home Teachers?'" and asked for an autograph. It's the only autograph he ever signed.
Now a candidate for Utah's vacant 3rd Congressional District seat, Bennett hopes more people recognize him and mark his name on the special election ballot.
Bennett, the son of the late GOP Sen. Bob Bennett, entered the race under the banner of a new political party that he helped create this past summer. The United Utah Party aims to attract disaffected Republicans and Democrats, along with independent voters. So far it has 174 members, according to the state elections office.
The party sued the state to get on the November ballot, and won. But that gave Bennett a late start. He has raised just under $15,000, though the party itself is helping fund his campaign to the extent the law allows.
Bennett, of Sandy, worked for various Republican candidates over the years until crossing over to a help a Democrat, ending any chance at a career in the GOP. He calls his time on Sam Granato's failed U.S. Senate campaign in 2010 his most satisfying political experience.
"It was wonderful because it demonstrated to me just how tribal politics can be. When you spend all of your time working for Republicans, you start to believe that Democrats aren't just wrong but they're evil," he said.
"Going to work where there were donkeys on the wall instead of elephants, I suddenly realized that we waste an awful lot of time and energy on things that don't matter," Bennett said. "The tribal distinctions don't matter. What matters is policy, and what matters is what you want to get done."
Bennett, who along with his wife, Laurel, have five children, thought he was done with politics after the Granato campaign.
He spent his early career in theater production and marketing but has worked the past seven years as the program director for RealVictory, a nonprofit that teaches a cognitive behavioral skills to probationers and parolees.
BYU political science professor and dissatisfied Democrat Richard Davis called Bennett early in 2017 about forming a new political party. Bennett had grown frustrated with the Republican Party and changed his voter registration to unaffiliated after Donald Trump won the GOP nomination for president.
People were already calling him a RINO — Republican In Name Only — but "I didn't even want to be a RINO anymore," Bennett said.
The United Utah Party sees itself as a centrist option. It maintains that the two-party system is broken and the Constitution anticipates disagreement and resolution through compromise.
"Both (major) parties have Balkanized themselves so much that they won't even talk to each other," he said.
Bennett arrived at his own political philosophies through long talks with his father on all sorts of subjects. If voters liked Bob Bennett, they will like Jim Bennett, he said.
He likes to think his dad would be on the front lines with him in his new party, but doubts he would have dropped his Republican affiliation, though the elder Bennett stopped donating to the party once Trump came along.
While promoting the United Utah Party is a big part of what Bennett is doing on the campaign trail, he has a hard time defining success in this election. Polls show him running a distant third among eight candidates, including two write-ins.10 comments on this story
"I can't give you an answer other than I'm running to win," he said.
Bennett said voters have recognized him more since a televised debate. Maybe the screen time — he can't afford TV ads — will get him a few more votes.
Maybe someone will ask for his autograph.
Party: United Utah
Occupation: Freelance copywriter, marketer; nonprofit program director
Political experience: Ran campaigns for GOP, Democratic candidates; Calabasas (California) High School senior class president