Warning claxons from Utah: Bob Bennett voted out

May 8, 2010

Utah’s political year can be odd.  Among other things, there is an unusual feature to get the nomination of a party.  A candidate can win the nomination outright, and avoid the party primary, by taking 72% of the delegates at the state convention.  Delegates vote in rounds, eliminated those with the least support, until some magic number of total delegates is divided among the leaders.  If the leading candidate gets anything less than 72% in the final round, there is a run-off at the primary election.  This way, only two candidates show up on the primary election ballot in September.

The winner of the primary then appears on the ballot in November.

Saturday in Salt Lake City Utah Republicans scanned a list of eight people contesting incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett for his seat.  Bob Bennett represented Utah in the U.S. Senate for three terms.

Bennett’s father, Wallace F. Bennett, represented Utah for four terms.  Bob Bennett is married to a granddaughter of LDS Church President David O. McKay (LDS call the president of their church “prophet, seer and revelator”).  He was president of the University of Utah studentbody in college, and he headed several corporations, including his father’s Bennett Paints, and the probably better known nationally, FranklinQuest manufacturer of organizers and appointment books. Bennett got the 2010 endorsements of the National Rifle Association and popular Mormon politician Mitt Romney.

Mr. Republican, in other words.

Utah Republicans put Bennett third in the final round, Saturday (Salt Lake Tribune story).  Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater face off in the primary election.   Bennett is out.  Bennett was “too liberal.”  Bennett was “too Washington.”  Bennett was viewed as not tough enough on government spending.

U.S. Sen. Robert F. Bennett and Utah constituent - campaign photo

U.S. Sen. Robert F. Bennett and Utah constituent - campaign photo

What can one say about such an event?

Utah Republicans have a long history of nominating cranks and crackpots, and sometimes they get elected.  Rarely does the story turn out happily for the state, or the party, though.

Douglas Stringfellow turned out to have made up the stories about his World War II bravery behind enemy lines, and lost his bid for re-election.  Enid Greene’s husband was the one with the imaginary biography, but the damage from the revelations ended her career in Congress.  Utah Republicans narrowly renominated Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, many Republicans refused to support him and bolted the party for that race, because they disapproved of Watkins’  having chaired the committee that recommended the censure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.  [It appears McCarthy’s history rewriting team got to Sen. Watkins’ biography at Wikipedia.  Troubling.]  Because of the split, Democrat Frank E. Moss won the seat and held it for three terms.

Lee clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, but based his Utah campaign on a claim the U.S. government is acting unconstitutionally.  Bridgewater lifted himself out of his trailer park beginnings to be a consultant on “emerging markets,” and a sometimes education-advisor to Utah Gov. John Huntsman (now U.S. ambassador to China).

What’s that ticking I hear?  Do you smell something burning, like a fuse?

Is there a warning siren going off somewhere?  2010 is already a bizarre election year.


Update, May 9:  A source informs me that Mike Lee is Rex Lee’s son — Rex Lee was the founding Dean of the Law School at Brigham Young University, past Solicitor General, and Assistant Attorney General, in charge of the Civil Division.  He served nine years as president of Brigham Young University.  Rex Lee graduated first in his class at Chicago, and clerked for Justice Byron White.  Justice Alito was an assistant to Rex Lee in the Solicitor General’s office, 1981-85.

Setting up the law school at Brigham Young, Rex Lee personally recruited many of the top Mormon graduates from universities around the country, intending to make the first graduating class (1976) at BYU’s law school notable, to build the school’s reputation from the start.  Political organizing may run in the family.

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