[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/23/art.mikelee.0619r.mikelee.jpg caption ="Mike Lee (far left) captured the GOP Senate nomination in Utah Tuesday night."](CNN) - A Tea Party backed candidate in Utah is a major step closer Wednesday morning to joining the U.S. Senate.
Mike Lee, a 38 year old attorney, captured the GOP Senate nomination in Utah Tuesday, edging out fellow conservative Tim Bridgewater, in a battle to succeed another Republican, Sen. Bob Bennett.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Lee beat Bridgewater 51 percent to 49 percent, according to a vote count by Associated Press.
"We had an army of hard-fighting, hard-campaigning volunteers and they just refused to quit because they believed in our message," said Lee late Tuesday night, according to local reports.
Bridgewater, a businessman, and Lee finished first and second, respectively last month at the Utah Republican Party convention, advancing to Tuesday's 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. Bennett became the first sitting senator to go down to defeat in a primary season marked by strong anti-incumbent sentiment.
After deciding not to mount a write-in campaign, Bennett endorsed Bridgewater, who was also backed the day before the primary by the leader of a Utah based Tea Party group.
Lee, a one-time clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, grabbed the endorsement of the Tea Party Express, which launched a radio campaign and a get out the vote effort to assist the candidate.
The Tea Party Express, a national group based in California that's best known for its three national bus tours, recently pumped more than $500,000 into the recent fight for the Republican Senate nomination in neighboring Nevada, helping transform ex-state lawmaker Sharron Angle, once considered a long shot, into an easy winner in a primary election held earlier this month.
"We are so excited to see another tea party candidate win a critical election, and the voters in Utah will be well-served with Mike Lee in the U.S. Senate," said Tea Party Express Political Director Bryan Shroyer, in a statement.
FreedomWorks also endorsed Lee, and its volunteers assisted in get-out-the-vote efforts 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.
Lee also won the endorsement of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. The former GOP presidential candidate is a leading figure in the libertarian movement.
Bennett upset many conservatives with his 2007 vote for President Bush's plan for a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants and his 2008 vote for the federal bailout of 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 Lee will be considered the overwhelming favorite to win the general election in November. He'll face off against Democratic nominee Sam Granato, a restaurant owner and chairman of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Lee wants to cut spending in Washington and limit the powers of the federal government.
"The federal government must be returned to the limited scope envisioned by the framers of the Constitution," states Lee's campaign website.
He also calls for the repeal of the new health care reform law passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.
–Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn