US Sen. Bob Bennett ousted at Utah GOP convention
Brock Vergakis, Associated Press Writer – 1 min ago
SALT LAKE CITY – Republican Sen. Bob Bennett was thrown out of office Saturday by delegates at the Utah GOP convention in what represents a stunning defeat for a once-popular three-term incumbent who fell victim to a growing conservative movement nationwide.
Bennett's failure to make it into Utah's GOP primary — let alone win his party's nomination — makes him the first congressional incumbent to be ousted this year and demonstrates the difficult challenges candidates are facing from the right in 2010.
"The political atmosphere obviously has been toxic and it's very clear that some of the votes that I have cast have added to the toxic environment," an emotional Bennett told reporters, choking back tears.
"Looking back on them, with one or two very minor exceptions, I wouldn't have cast any of them any differently even if I had known at the time they were going to cost me my career."
Bennett survived a first round of voting Saturday among roughly 3,500 delegates but was a distant third in the second round. He garnered just under 27 percent of the vote. Businessman Tim Bridgewater had 37 percent and attorney Mike Lee got 35 percent.
"Don't take a chance on a newcomer," Bennett had pleaded in his brief speech to the delegates before the second round of voting began. "There's too much at stake."
Bennett's endorsements by the National Rifle Association and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney did little to stave off anger toward the Washington establishment from delegates.
"The bailout bothers me. That in and of itself is unforgivable in my opinion," said delegate Scott White, a 58-year-old general contractor from Taylorsville.
Bennett, 76, initially faced seven Republican opponents who said he wasn't conservative enough for ultraconservative Utah.
Bennett has been under fire for the past year for voting for a Wall Street bailout, co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill mandating health insurance coverage and for aggressively pursuing earmarks for his state.
Lee and Bridgewater pledged to be more fiscally conservative than Bennett, who was targeted for defeat by the Washington-based anti-tax group Club for Growth.
If neither Lee or Bridgewater gets 60 percent of delegate votes in a third round Saturday, they will face off in a June 22 primary.
Following Bennett's defeat, Lee was endorsed in a video by S.C. Sen. Jim Demint.