Utah Senator Bob Bennett's bid for a fourth term was summarily dismissed today at the Utah Republican Party convention. Bennett was a distant third to financier Tim Bridgewater and
teabagger Tea Party darling Mike Lee.
Bennett's unforgivable Senate sins were, according to local party
hacks officials, daring to consider any form of health care reform, his TARP vote and other ideological votes around constitutional issues like the flag burning amendment. Despite Mitt Romney's endorsement, party purists coalesced around the money and the tea party take-no-prisoners doctrine, respectively.
Mike Lee is the former head of Ron Paul's Utah operation, Glenn Beck darling, and Tea Party faithful. Along those lines, Lee had received FreedomWorks' endorsement along with Tea Party creator Dick Armey's personal endorsement. That PR move was further augmented with the endorsements of Mark Levin, Erick Erickson, and far-right conservative state legislators.
Yet, Mike Lee still lost to Tim Bridgewater in round two, even with all that Tea Party mojo. Who is Tim Bridgewater, other than a guy with a whole lot of money?
Tim Bridgewater is chairman and founder of Interlink Capital Strategies, a businessman and venture capitalist with ties to Neil Bush and the more mainstream faction of the Republican party. He received the highest number of votes in the second round of voting, but did not receive Tea Party endorsements.
The Utah convention exposes a deep rift slicing right down the center of the Republican Party between the hard-core Ron Paul/Tea Party group and the more traditional pro-business anti-tax group. While it appears that the more traditional conservative values are ahead by a small percentage of the party faithful, there is an unmasked canyon of differences threatening to divide the Republican Party and drive it farther to the right than it already is.
Stay tuned for the primary on June 22nd. It's probably a good idea not to count Bob Bennett out, either. He hasn't ruled out the idea of a write-in campaign, which could make things even more interesting, given the poll numbers pointing to a Bennett win in an open primary.
Update: Senator Jim DeMint has now endorsed Mike Lee, completing the Tea Party Triumvirate. Why did he wait until after Bennett had been eliminated?