Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo:
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) has lost at his state Republican convention — officially defeating him for re-nomination without a primary. He is the first incumbent Senator to lose re-election in 2010, a Republican driven from office by the anti-establishment conservative insurgency.
The results of the second ballot, courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune: Businessman Tim Bridgewater 37%, attorney Mike Lee 36%, and the incumbent Sen. Bennett 27%. There will now be a final round of voting pitting Bridgewater against Lee, to see whether one of them can get 60% of the delegate vote and thus be nominated outright. If neither receives 60% of the delegate vote, the race will go to a primary on June 22.
The strong showing for Bridgewater came as a surprise, as national conservatives — including FreedomWorks — have strongly supported Lee. But Cherilyn Eagar, a Republican activist who was knocked out on the first ballot, had vocally opposed Lee, and her votes largely went to Bridgewater. But Bennett was never able to overcome an anti-incumbent sentiment in the GOP base. In his speech after coming third in the first round, Bennett pleaded for delegates to consider which candidate had the most influence in Washington.
“Don’t take a chance on a newcomer,” said Bennett. “There’s too much at stake.”
That message fell flat with Utah Republicans, who now face a choice between two conservative activists who have never held elective office. Bennett’s only option to continue his political career is, as he told the Associated Press, an unprecedented write-in campaign. At this hour, it’s unclear if he’ll proceed.
As for implications, well, here’s an obvious one: Senator Bob Bennett just discovered that you can’t be from Utah and vote like you’re from Kentucky.
Bennett’s not the only one with egg on his face after today’s votes. Mitt Romney endorsed Bennett’s bid for re-election and introduced him at the convention, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed him as well. Sen. Orrin Hatch tried rounding up delegates for Bennett at the convention. However, the state’s GOP leadership declined to publicly back him and worked to keep the national party out of the convention fight as well.
This shows that the Tea Party movement isn’t about restoring a Republican status quo. The movement’s activists want real change, and real action to reverse the growth of government and the profligate spending that has gone on for far too long in Washington DC. Republican incumbents nationwide should consider this a wake-up call.
Although a dramatic development in a state which rarely makes political headlines, my guess is that people are going to read a bit too much into the national implications of this. The 3,500 delegates who select Utah’s Republican candidates — chosen at local precinct meetings — are highly informed and extremely conservative activists who are not representative of Utah Republicans as a whole nor the Republican primary electorates in other states. Some polling has suggested that Bennett would have been favored to win a conventional primary, although there were no guarantees.
The two prospective Democratic nominees, Sam Granato and Christopher Stout, are inexperienced. In such a ruby-red state, they are unlikely to pose much threat to Lee or Bridgewater in the general election.
National Review, before the ouster:
So the question before Utah Republicans is, in part, whether that legislation reflects well or poorly on the senator’s judgment. On this point we disagree with his fans. Bennett’s bill was not superior to Obamacare. It was worse than it in some respects, but in the crucial respects it was simply identical. Obamacare’s three main elements are regulations that block insurance companies from accurately pricing risk, a requirement that all people buy this irrationally priced product, and subsidies to help some of them do that. Bennett’s legislation featured all three elements.
His legislation would have resulted in lower health spending than Obamacare, and more people would have purchased insurance for themselves rather than through their employers. But the lower spending would largely have been generated by pushing people into HMOs rather than by freeing them to make their own cost-quality trade-offs. And the solution to a decades-long federal policy of encouraging employer provision of health insurance is not a sudden move to a federal policy of prohibiting it.
Bennett’s legislation never received widespread public attention, but if it had it is safe to say that it would have been at least as unpopular as Obamacare proved — and probably less popular. The notion that it could have been a vehicle for heading off Obamacare is a fantasy.
On the most important political issue of the last two years, Bennett was mistaken; and he has not changed his mind (although he did, bizarrely, vote to declare Obamacare’s individual mandate unconstitutional while remaining the co-sponsor of his own mandate-including bill). Perhaps this record does not obligate Utah Republicans to pick someone else. But if they do it should be no occasion for sadness beyond the circle of his friends and family.
UPDATE: Erick Erickson at Redstate