June 22nd, 2010
08:21 AM ET
10 years ago

Tea Party battle to be decided in Utah primary

The Tea Party Express is backing lawyer Mike Lee in his bid to succeed fellow Utah Republican Bob Bennett in the Senate.

The Tea Party Express is backing lawyer Mike Lee in his bid to succeed fellow Utah Republican Bob Bennett in the Senate.

(CNN) - Voters will head to the polls in Utah Tuesday, where a Republican Senate nomination battle is grabbing the spotlight.

The contest will be another test of the political strength of the Tea Party Express. The national Tea Party group, which is based in California, is backing and assisting lawyer Mike Lee in the battle to succeed fellow Republican Bob Bennett, who is supporting the other candidate on the ballot, businessman Tim Bridgewater.

Bridgewater and Lee finished first and second last month at the Utah Republican party convention, advancing to the June 22 primary. Bridgewater and Lee touted themselves as more reliable conservatives than Bennett, who finished third in the voting by delegates, eliminating him from advancing to the primary and ending his chances of re-election for a fourth term in the Senate. Bennett became the first sitting senator to go down in defeat in a primary season marked by a strong anti-incumbent sentiment.

Tea Party Express, best known for its three national bus tours, is running radio ads supporting Lee. The group recently pumped more than half a million dollars into the recent fight for the Republican Senate nomination in neighboring Nevada, helping transform former state lawmaker Sharron Angle, once a long-shot, into an easy winner in this month's primary election.

FreedomWorks has also endorsed Lee, and its volunteers are assisting in get out the vote efforts on the ground in Utah. FreedomWorks is a nonprofit conservative organization that helps train volunteer activists and has provided much of the organizational heft behind the Tea Party movement.

But the contest appears to be dividing Tea Party activists, as the leader of a local Tea Party group in Utah backed Bridgewater on the day before the primary.

Bennett upset many conservatives with his vote in 2007 in favor of President George W. Bush's plan for a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants, and his 2008 vote in favor of the federal bailout of large banks and financial institutions. The fiscally conservative Club for Growth actively worked to defeat Bennett, as did local Tea Party organizations and Tea Party Express. The GOP dominates statewide elections in Utah and the winner of the Republican primary will be considered the overwhelming favorite to win the general election in November.

A non-partisan Salt Lake Deseret News/KSL poll conducted last week by Dan Jones and Associates indicated Bridgewater leading Lee by nine points, with a very high one in four likely GOP primary voters undecided.

–Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn

Filed under: 2010 • Mike Lee • Tea Party Express • Tea Party movement • Utah
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Peter E

    The Tea Party, and the media's obsession with painting this year as an anti-incumbent year is a joke. Despite what the media is trying to push, over 95% of incumbents who ran for re-election in the primaries have won those primaries this past month. The only big profile 'wins' for the Tea Party were where they themselves endorsed an incumbent republican (how predictable), or were empty/non-republican seats where no incumbent republican was running.
    And guess what's going to happen in the general election in November! As much as people don't like Congress, they will still re-elect their own representatives. Sure, they all want to throw out OTHERS' representatives, but when it comes to their own, 'oh, he's done a fine job.'

    June 22, 2010 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  2. scott

    the tea party is not a official party.until they are they r still republicans!!!!!

    June 22, 2010 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  3. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    For too long a time, Americans have let Washington dictate much of the nature of American society. The Tea Party represents, I think, the (re)discovery by Americans that they don't have to let Washington do that.

    The sheep are finally looking up, looking around, and deciding they don't like what they see.

    June 22, 2010 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  4. The national Tea Party group, which is based in California

    we don't want them

    please someone take these tea quacks, they crossed the border illegally and got in through Nevada and we tried to send them back (to any where, no one would take them), we even put up a fence at the California / Oregon border, but they dug a tunnel

    we have enacted state law to deport them to New Jersey but other states have a 'no tea party' fly over law as well as a 'no transport of nuclear waste' through our state laws

    so until their nuclear half lives make them less toxic we need a place to store them


    June 22, 2010 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  5. katiec

    Voters are opening their eyes and realizing how ridiculous the tea partiers and their stance are. We cannot allow their candidates to be in office as would set the advancement of our country back years.
    They cannot seem to realize they are being used and manipulated by the radical right. Intelligent Americans are fed up with them.

    June 22, 2010 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  6. Minnesotan

    Tea Party = Lunatic fringe

    June 22, 2010 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  7. Pragmatic

    Seems to be lots and lots of money available for such a "grassroots" organization ... wonder where all the millions are coming from and the connections of those "in charge" ...

    June 22, 2010 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  8. American Patriot - a "real" tea partier

    Can we save time and just pass the Tea Partiers the kool-aid now?

    June 22, 2010 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  9. GI Joe

    Vote against the one Palin supports - that, at least, will get the smartest of the two idiots.

    June 22, 2010 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  10. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Will the "tea party" be eating crow when Bridgewater wins? I hope so. These "tea party" people are questionable. Where were they when the Bush Administration passed bloated bills by a Republican controlled Congress? Where were they when the Bush Administration and Republican controlled Congress passed Medicare part D without paying for it? No where because these people are frauds!

    June 22, 2010 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  11. AFR531

    Backing both candidates-the Tea Party will claim victory regardless of who wins.

    June 22, 2010 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  12. Randall in Torrance, CA - The Tea Party is a right wing fringe gang of uneducated backwards hicks

    These Tea Party losers were holding up their "Down with the Middle-Class" signs in front of BevMo a few months back in Manhattan Beach. Everyone driving by gave them the middle finger and yelled out "go away." Nobody except themselves takes them seriously. They hate all races other than pure white. They are a disgusting bunch of pigs. Their brainless leaders, Palin and Limbaugh are worshipped like Gods except Palin is so into herself that she does not realize the election is over, and Limbaugh is so full of cigar smoke, barbiturates and cheese burgers he's one step away from the ER and a RIP tombstone.

    June 22, 2010 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  13. Jim Leavenworth

    What kind of bonehead law gives a small number of convention going fanatics the legal right to ban any candidate from the primary ballot? If the latest polls happen to be wrong and Lee is the winner Utah could be stuck with a senator who in his private law practice represents Energy Solutions, which wants to import foreign nuclear waste to the Utah desert. Of course this all may be moot if the Tea Party gets its way since there is sentiment in it to repeal the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators). Unbelievable!

    June 22, 2010 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  14. dale

    They don't need any political test CNN you liberal fools. This is just people sick of medias like you lying to everyone and getting low lifes elected. We all want our country back so you better find the correct people to support or we'll sink you failing media.

    June 22, 2010 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  15. Utah is fine

    Both guys are great. I wish one could take Boxer's senate seat in CA.... CA and MA are the states that have some of the worst reps (see Barney Frank, Pelosi, Waxman, Kerry, Waters,...)

    June 22, 2010 10:28 am at 10:28 am |