More on Bennett’s Loss in Utah

Earlier today, James noted that incumbent US Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) lost his bid at re-nomination to run for re-election this November.  This has drawn national attention because of the Tea Party influence in the state’s GOP and the fact that incumbents normally aren’t ousted at the nomination stage.

The Bennett situation does link into a broader theme this year, which is how much the Tea Party/oust the RINOs issue is going to affect the GOP.

However, I would caution against reading too much in the Bennett situation.

First, the institutional parameters in Utah are such that it was even more likely that activists within the Utah GOP would have influence.  Specifically, this was a convention-based process.  As WaPo reports:

Bennett lost in the second of three ballots under Utah’s complicated nominating system. He did so despite an introduction from former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is enormously popular in Utah. Attendees applauded more vigorously for a video of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), supporting one of Bennett’s rivals, than they did for Romney, who won 89 percent of the vote in Utah’s 2008 presidential primary.


The two remaining candidates — lawyer Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater, both of whom courted tea party voters — faced off in a third ballot. Because neither won 60 percent of the vote, they will compete again in a June 22 primary election. Either way , Utah is all but sure to elect a candidate in the fall with significant tea party support.

Second, this will likely mean absolutely nothing in terms of the make-up of the US Senate.  Utah is extremely conservative and will send a Republican to the Senate.  So while it is interesting that the Tea Party is having influence in Utah, it isn’t as if this tells us much about the rest of the country.  And because it wasn’t even a popular vote, it doesn’t even tell us anything about Utah’s GOP voters.

In related news, incumbents and old guard politicians did just fine in several primaries (via the AP): Unharnessed anger: Incumbents win in NC, OH, IN.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. TangoMan says:

    In related news, incumbents and old guard politicians did just fine in several primaries (via the AP): Unharnessed anger: Incumbents win in NC, OH, IN.

    Unharnessed anger is an apt description. Utah TEA Party activists were able to harness their energies. I doubt that the discontent in Utah as greater than in other states, so the Utah case isn’t sui generis so I think it only a matter of time before the organizational lessons learned in Utah are applied in other states. This election cycle might be finished, but the future always awaits.