Republican Sen. Bob Bennett could be first incumbent in six decades to lose party’s nomination

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Republican Utah Sen. Bob Bennett — who polls show to be the underdog against Tea Party-backed challengers — could become the state’s first incumbent senator to lose his party’s nomination since the 1940s at this weekend’s GOP convention. The convention may yield the first high-profile example of outing the insiders.

“The anger is palpable,” Bennett said on CNN Thursday. “The anger’s very strong and that’s why I am in trouble.  But if I meet with the delegates, if I spend time with them going through the facts, I find I can turn them around.”

A recent poll of delegates shows Bennett, who has been targeted for his votes that clash with conservative grassroots activists, trailing both Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater.

The state’s party convention nominating process means Bennett has to finish in the top two places among delegates, assuming no candidate gets 60 percent or more of the caucus vote and wins outright, for the chance to run in the primary.

“In the convention, it is the most retail of retail politics,” Bennett said. “People expect to see you one-on-one.”

The anti-tax Club for Growth, angry about his vote for the 2008 bank bailout, has spent more than $100,000 against him, the AP reported. Mitt Romney will use his star power to rouse support for Bennett, introducing the senator at the convention.

Only one in five delegates from Utah’s 2008 Republican convention were re-elected to May’s nominating convention, meaning the gathering will include much more “new blood” — bad news for Bennett.

Delegates will have the opportunity to chide Bennett, as a resolution at the convention up for vote will be voted on that blasts health-care legislation sponsored by the senator.

Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks — an organization that bills itself as based upon lower taxes, less government and more freedom — endorsed Lee, pointing out Bennett’s “support for the TARP bill, his promotion of health-care legislation that includes an individual mandate, and his many earmarks.”

On Thursday, the group tweeted, “FreedomWorks guys on the ground in Utah this weekend for Mike Lee: ‘We’re going RINO hunting,’” referencing moderates, like Bennett, called “Republicans in Name Only.”

Russ Walker, on the ground for Freedomworks, has been involved in Utah politics in the past, and warned the convention could get “a little bit dicey.” While he said he thinks most delegates would hands down elect Lee, “When you get in the convention, on the convention floor, anything can happen.”

Walker said “the floor is like a shark feeding frenzy” and delegates are “constantly in flux as they get new information.”

“They’ll have their favorite. But they’ll be open to new ideas when they walk in,” he said of the delegates.

A Bennett spokesman did not return requests for comment from The Daily Caller, but Bennett said on CNN that he’s busy courting delegates. “Just this morning, I had a breakfast with a group of delegates and I said ‘How many of you are undecided?’  A majority raised their hands. And that’s what makes me think I still have a shot at this.”

Lee, an attorney, promotes himself as constitutionalist on his campaign Web site to the point of saying he “acquired his love for the Constitution at an early age while discussing everything from the Due Process Clause to the Second Amendment around the dinner table.”

Dan Houser, deputy campaign manager for Lee’s campaign, said the campaign’s strategy between now and Saturday is speaking to as many delegates as possible. “From here on out, every minute every day it’s all about the delegates,” he said.

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