Washington (CNN) – Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, told CNN Thursday that he is working hard to overcome the anti-Washington, anti-incumbent political mood gripping the nation as the midterm election approaches.
The Republican senator faces his first re-election challenge on Saturday, when he must finish first or second in the balloting at the state GOP convention in order to get a spot on the primary ballot.
"Why is your party so restless? What is in the water?," CNN Chief National Correspondent John King asked Bennett in an interview that will Thursday on CNN's "John King, USA."
"Well there's a great anger about Washington," Bennett said. "A lot of people say, 'We hate what's going on, we hate everybody who's there.' And in Utah, the only 'anybody' they can vote, vote against who happens to be there turns out to be me. I keep telling them: I'm not part of the problem. I'm part of the solution, and we'll see at the convention whether I can make that sale."
"But is that anger out there so palpable that maybe there's nothing you can do?," King asked.
"Well I think there is something I can do," the senator responded. "The anger is palpable. The anger's very strong and that's why I am in trouble. But if I meet with the [convention] delegates, if I spend time with them going through the facts, I find I can turn them around."
Bennett also addressed concerns that he contributed to the increased government spending under former President George W. Bush. In particular, Bennett said that he has a long record of speaking up on the need for entitlement reform.
But he also said he understands the restlessness of the electorate. "The desire for change is a constant in American politics," he said.
"A lot of people campaign on change," he said. Bennett said he has been telling convention delegates that he has "been a voice for change and a one who has produced change."
"They say, 'Oh yeah, we kind of forgot about that.' And I say, 'No, I know how to do it. Keep me there and I can keep doing it.' And that's the message that I think is beginning to resonate better than it did at the beginning."
In the interview, Bennett also touched on immigration reform.
"You can start out with border security but you have to then move very quickly to a guest worker kind of program that makes the border security effective," he said.
Saying he did not believe "anybody should break the law without some kind of penalty," Bennett suggested that prior to adjusting their legal status, "a very stiff fine" should be imposed on people in the country illegally.
At that point, Bennett said, he would be willing to entertain placing undocumented immigrants into a temporary worker program that allowed them to come and go across the country's borders.
But the Republican was quick to add that the nation's citizenship rules need not be adjusted.
"You'll notice in this conversation I have not used the word citizenship," he said. "I don't think any of these things should be part of the path to citizenship. We have rules and laws for that and they exist now. I don't think they should be changed or loosened in any way."