How Tea Partiers Ousted Utah's Republican Senator

Bob Bennett, serving since 1993, lost his own party's convention

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Republican Senator Bob Bennett, who has represented Utah since 1993, lost his own party's convention on Saturday to two challengers, both new to politics, who will compete for the GOP nomination to run for Senate in a June primary. Both challengers were supported by various Tea Party activists and group, making Saturday's convention a watershed moment for the movement's political clout. Here's how they did it and what it will mean.

  • First Such Tea Party Victory  The Washington Post's Amy Gardner dubs Bennett "the first sitting senator to fall in the ideological battle being waged in his party. Although he has long been viewed as a reliable conservative with deep Mormon roots, Republicans rallied behind two other candidates -- neither of whom has held political office. ... National tea party organizers embraced the victory as a major first step toward returning the Republican Party to its conservative foundations of limited government and low taxes."
  • Big Tea Party Moment, But This Is Utah  The Atlantic's Chris Good calls this the "biggest victory yet" for the Tea Party, "having put a true Tea Party-style candidate on a GOP ballot for U.S. Senate, for the first time ever." However, "Don't read too much into it. Utah is a very conservative state. The GOP primary electorate more conservative there than almost anywhere else. So if this was going to happen, Utah seems like the place."
  • Why It's Not As Big As You Think  Statistics wonk Nate Silver explains, "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."
  • Even Conservative Republicans In Trouble  It's not just the moderate GOP incumbents who have to worry, says Newsweek's Andrew Romano. "So far this election cycle, the establishment or incumbent Republicans who've found themselves on the receiving end of a serious Tea Party primary challenge have been at least somewhat moderate. Think Mark Kirk in Illinois. Charlie Crist in Florida. John McCain in Arizona. Not anymore. ... During his three terms in office, Bennett almost never deviated from strict conservative orthodoxy." But that's not enough for Tea Partiers, whose demand for purity makes almost any incumbent unpalatable.
  • Tea Parties Look For Next Target  The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza predicts, "Tea party supporters from across the nation had targeted Bennett as part of the problem in Washington and, with his defeat, are almost certain to be further energized to beat other GOP incumbents and candidates who they feel are not representing the core values of the party. The next race to watch in the ongoing fight between the GOP establishment and the tea party wing of the party is in Kentucky."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.