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Cover Story

Republicans Against Bob Bennett Page 1

Conservatives ride America's wave of outrage hoping to take down Utah Sen. Bob Bennett.

By Katharine Biele
Posted // December 16,2009 - Hunter and sportsman that he is, Tim Bridgewater’s on the scent. Revolution. He can feel it. He’s part of the movement, a movement that’s going to take back America, by God, and not just from the damned Democrats.

“I think that there’s an anti-incumbent sentiment among voters in the country,” says Bridgewater, one of a growing number of Republican challengers to U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, and perhaps the most vocal in the call to sweep out the old, old guard. Oh, did he mention that Bennett is 76?

Bridgewater is, ahem, younger than that. At 49, he’s a tall, brawny former football player whose handle is The Raspy Voice, a reference to his perpetual hoarseness. He doesn’t really look the part of a financial wonk, although he is.

Bridgewater ( just returned from Washington, D.C., where he huddled at conservative think tanks about The Plan. It’s a plan to wrest control from those tax-and-spend Dems who are “taking too much money from the public for unlimited government,” Bridgewater says.

“Kentucky State Senate race is a harbinger of things to come across the country,” he Tweets. In that special Senate election, voters there chose a Republican over a Democrat in a heavily Democratic district, ostensibly because the GOP had successfully “nationalized” the race.

Lacking any “sexy” hot-point issues like immigration or weapons of mass destruction, this race has become one of economics—and core Republican values. And that is part of the national debate.

BridgewaterRedo.jpgBridgewater is heading into his third race for national office since returning to Utah in 1999. His chances of winning this time got suddenly better when the two top challengers—first Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and then Merit Medical founder Fred Lampropolous—dropped out. Shurtleff had campaigned for well over a year before withdrawing because of family issues. Lampropolous joined the race in late November for one bittersweet week before backing out. Lampropolous actually had a $4.4 million proposition waiting in which the state offered an incentive package to increase jobs. “This is the biggest momand-pop store in the state,” says longtime friend and state GOP chairman Dave Hansen. And since Lampropolous is a hands-on owner, Hansen says, he likely would have had to give up Merit to run.

Even with Shurtleff and Lampropolous exiting, Bridgewater is still watching the field grow. On Twitter, he hailed an announcement from Mike Lee, who was general counsel to former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., even though he hasn’t declared yet. There’s been talk of outgoing Provo Mayor Lewis Billings and 3rd District Rep. Jason Chaffetz joining the race, too.

Already running is a gaggle of fun and fanciful characters. There’s Cherilyn Eagar (, a self-professed expert on the conspiratorial evils of the high school International Baccalaureate Program, who quips in the style of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and fashions herself an anti-feminist. There’s James Russell Williams III (, a little-known party worker who “is fighting to restore Constitutional principles,” according to his Website, supports traditional families and wants to help small business—and who’s been pretty much ignored in the media. And in late November, even ex-con Cody Judy (—whose 1993 attack on LDS Apostle Howard W. Hunter shot him to infamy—announced he was running. Judy has already run unsuccessfully for Congress multiple times and for the U.S. presidency in 2008.

Had Shurtleff or Lampropolous remained in the race, the Senate race might have been more mainstream. But as the right wing lines up, it’s becoming more and more evident that Bennett’s on the defense against a philosophical faction, says Matthew Burbank, chair of the University of Utah’s political science department.

“Having a sitting attorney general and Fred Lampropolous—a fairly heavyweight challenger—is an indication there’s some real dissatisfaction,” Burbank says. But neither Shurtleff nor Lampropolous would likely have quelled that dissatisfaction. They just weren’t anti-establishment enough.

“Clearly the odd thing, from my perspective, is that the dissatisfaction is from people quite conservative, saying [Bennett is] too much a Washington insider and too willing to make deals,” Burbank says.

Purity Rings
So, enter the purists: The constitutional die-hards, the Tea Party Patriots, Glenn Beck’s “9.12 Project” disciples and just about anyone else willing to Tweet about the sad state of the nation and the end of democracy as we know it.

This sort of drive toward purity typically happens after a political party suffers defeat, Burbank says. Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was exactly the slap in the face that conservative Republicans needed to fuel their jets. That they’re angry is an understatement. That their anger is turned toward their own incumbents is curious.

The purists may already have had an effect on the Senate campaign, spurring Bennett to release his book, Leap of Faith, just as attack ads from the national right-wing Club for Growth ( were unleashed. In his book, Bennett declares his deep and abiding faith in the truth of the Book of Mormon—a handy way of saying that he’s one of the white, male, Mormon gang. Still, it may not be enough, and the question remains as to whether any in the crowd of upstart conservatives can oust the elder statesman.

Club for Growth is helping to ask the questions with at least two scathing TV ads. “We were trying to educate the folks in Utah about what we thought were his pretty serious flaws in health care … and whether he is a real economic conservative at all,” says Mike Connolly, Club for Growth spokesman.

That, in effect, is a clarion call to his opponents. “Bennett is not a bad guy,” says Bridgewater. That’s what all the challengers are saying. “He’s not corrupt, but he hasn’t represented this state as well as I will.”

Bridgewater notes that National Journal rates Bennett as only the 33rd most conservative senator. “Coming out of a state that is the most conservative in the nation, that seems to be a disconnect,” Bridgewater says.

For sure, Bridgewater wants to represent the state. He ran in 2002 and 2004 for the Republican nomination in the Congressional 2nd District, which would have earned him a chance to run against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

Both times, he lost in the party’s primary—a track record, of sorts. But, as Merrill Cook has proved, losing once, losing twice, or losing many times, doesn’t preclude a win at some point.

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Posted // December 26,2009 at 16:19


I am personally outraged! Specifically at Bob Bennett, and at the Republican party in general.

His actions prove he is more concerned about the welfare and wealth of the Insurance business. and not the least bit concerned about taxpayers or voters.

I read Bennett's blog and posted three separate, neutrally worded posts along the lines of ... "health care and health insurance needs reform. The system is broken, it costs too much now, the care we recieve now is sub-standard, the independently employed cannot get affordable quality insurance. Please help reform the system"

those posts were censored and not posted on Bennetts site. while other hard right posts were prolific.

I WAS a lifelong Republican. After the Republican party's performance on health care reform (looking after the interests of Insurance companies).

I am now an ACTIVE DEMOCRAT. I am no longer Republican.

I will continue to speak out against all behavior which puts the interests of the Insurance business in front of the interests of taxpayers. Hope you will too.



Posted // December 21,2009 at 15:14

I'll agree with Tim Bridgewater on at least one thing, term limits. And there should also probably be an age limit. 80 or 90 years old is just too old to be making public policy.

Since Tim's mother was a single parent and they lived on welfare it's incredibly hypocritical of him to be against all government or social programs. But then I have yet to meet a "conservative" or Republican who wasn't hypocritical when the programs were something that benefitted them.


Posted // December 18,2009 at 11:30

Mike Lee is the only one who can beat Bennett. I heard him speak at the iCaucus event and came away with the feeling that I knew he could beat our incumbent Senator. I know that none of the others can.


Posted // December 20,2009 at 06:42 - Mike Lee? The majority of Utahns, republicans and democrats, voters and non-voters don't want Bennett to return. I know a lot of people that would vote for Granato over Bennett. Will Mike Lee get a chance to even run against Bennett? That is a great question. The likely of any of the names mentioned beating Cherilyn Eagar is slim to none. I think there is a great chance Bob Bennett doesn't even make it out of the 1st round of voting at convention.


Posted // December 17,2009 at 11:30

Elder Statesman is polite, but not to accurate in describing Bennett. I have heard he is a very nice person, unfortunately that is not what is needed in Congress. Bennett is VERY liberal and isn't really honest. He said he was for term limits and would only run for 2. He is already on his 3 and now, at the age of 76 wants a fourth term. He also spent a ton of money on trying to convince Utahan's he was against government health care by running those TV ads. But he is not against government health care, he is just against the Democrat health care bill. He still wants government health care, he helped write one of his own (which included abortion funding). But since this is very unpopular, particularly in Utah, he pretends he is against it. This is exactly why people are against incumbents, regardless of party. They speak out of both sides of their mouths. We need a totally new Congress of principled, moral individuals that will uphold the Constitution.


Posted // December 28,2009 at 06:49 - Well, our well-documented Conservative Senator, Orin Hatch, ran against a good, decent man named Frank Moss back in the last Ice Age and he ran on term limits. Now, he's a confused-sounding old crank who's recent seditious comments against our government remind us that from time to time, we need to dry dock the boat and scrape off the barnicles that won't leave on their own. Rather than creating a conservative litmus test for candidates, take a good look at Senator Hatch and how out of touch he is. Oh, he's conservative, all right. And a total tool of industry lobbies and has an embarassing John Birch infection that has never cleared up regardless of how many potentially dangerous, multi-level herbal supplements and vitamins he's protected.


Posted // December 17,2009 at 00:40

The event on Dec. 5th, had 120 show up for a full day of 10 classes periods in 3 rooms (30 total) on a Saturday in December. I thought the event was very good and the turnout better than I would have expected.

Williams, in my opinion, is the only republican candidate that is running that I am not sure would beat Granato, but he did better than Granato at the debate in Logan.

Cherilyn Eagar, is the one ahead in this race, and the most likely to take out Bob Bennett.

Yes, Eagar has spoken to crowds of over 2,000 at a time, and attracted several of the conservative groups, but she also has atracted some of the more moderate delegates, something missed here.

She has been an activist for 30 years at local, state, national, and international levels, something the others, including Bennett can't claim.

In March of this year Senator Bob Bennett was rated one of the ten most liberal Republicans in the Senate by Human Events based on the American Conservative Union Ratings for 2008. Why Bennett would pay money to convince voters he is Conservative is beyond me.


Posted // December 17,2009 at 09:35 - Additonally, the event wasn't sponsored by the 912 Project, it was sponsored by iCaucus. I was there in the morning and counted 40 in one seminar. Don't know where you are getting your info, but your source needs to learn to read and to count.