Friday, October 08, 2010

Utah U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Utah U.S. Senate

October 8, 2010
25 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Safe Republican

In a state as conservative as Utah, a general election for the U.S. Senate is basically decided in a Republican primary. In this specific circumstance, it was a vote at the State GOP Convention, that knocked a three term incumbent out of the campaign. If the state were more politically competitive, the ramifications of such a vote by a relatively small amount of voters would perhaps be a much bigger story of this political year.

Republican Senator Bob Bennett was first elected in 1992, garnered close ties to the GOP leadership, and was a reliably conservative vote on most issues. However, many conservative activists and Tea Party members began to take issue with Bennett, as he had been a co-sponsor of a bipartisan health care proposal, and also voted in favor of the TARP program. Many of the same citizens also had anger toward Utah's Senior U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, believing that both he and Bennett were not adequately enough to the right to represent the state. They decided to take out their disapproval on Bennett at this election year, and a crowded field of candidates emerged to challenge him.

Under Utah election law, candidates must reach a certain threshold at party conventions to avoid a primary, in which only the top to finishers , secure a place on the ballot. In May of this year, despite an in person endorsement appeal from Mitt Romney, the nation's most prominent Mormon GOP politician, Bennett finished third in a round of voting, failing to advance to a primary, where he would have been favored with a larger segment of the GOP electorate participating. The Senator was clearly upset by the result, and there was some speculation that he might mount a write-in bid in November to keep his job, but he decided to abide by the rules of the party and not proceed.

In the meantime, neither of Bennett's two main Republican opponents had secured enough votes to avoid a primary and thus businessman and former Congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee, had their tickets punched to advance to a June primary. Bennett and many of his supporters came to support Bridgewater's candidacy, and it looked as if he be in position to win the primary, but ultimately, the state's most conservative voters delivered a narrow win to Lee, who had been supported by the increasingly influential South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.

The Democrats nominated at their convention, Sam Granato, a businessman and Chairman of the state's culturally necessary Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Granato might have been somewhat pleased to get to run against Lee, as opposed to Bennett or even Bridgewater, but there was certainly no popping of champagne corks in the heavily temperate state. Any Democrat running for federal statewide office in Utah faces enormous odds and the conservative mood of voters around the country this year certainly does not foretell a Democrat pickup in the most Republican state of the country.

Lee's margin of victory may not be as overwhelming as might otherwise be the case, but he is still expected to win more than comfortably and the 39 year old constitutional attorney can likely lay claim (barring a disappointing result for me in Illinois) to be the first and thus far only ever elected U.S. Senator to be born in the 1970s. A 36 year old West Virginia Democrat has been recently appointed to fill a temporary Senate vacancy, so his name may find it's place in the trivia books complete with an asterisk.

Lee campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 8 D, 25 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 48 D, 48 R