Tea party wins victory in Utah as incumbent GOP senator loses bid for nomination
By Amy Gardner
Sunday, May 9, 2010
The national “tea party” movement toppled its first incumbent Saturday as long-serving Sen. Robert F. Bennett was defeated at the Utah Republican Party’s nominating convention, the most powerful demonstration yet of the anti-Washington tide that is altering the nation’s political landscape.
Bennett, seeking a fourth term after 18 years in office, became the first sitting senator to fall in the ideological battle being waged in his party. Although he has long been viewed as a reliable conservative with deep Mormon roots, Republicans rallied behind two other candidates — neither of whom has held political office — who will compete for the nomination at a June primary.
National tea party organizers embraced the victory as a major first step toward returning the Republican Party to its conservative foundations of limited government and low taxes. At the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, tea party activists cheered and celebrated after Bennett lost.
“This is a symbol that the tea party movement and the broader limited-government agenda is huge,” said Brendan Steinhauser, grass-roots director for the national tea party organization FreedomWorks, which set up a booth at the convention to herald Bennett’s defeat. “It’s the center of American politics. It’s everything that we’ve been saying it is. It’s not just a protest movement; it’s a political force.”
Steinhauser said Bennett’s defeat represents a critical first win that will help build momentum in other contests across the nation. Next up is Kentucky, where tea party candidate Rand Paul is running hard in a GOP primary battle against Trey Grayson, the handpicked candidate of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Some tea party activists suggested they may seek to oust Utah’s other senator, Orrin G. Hatch (R), whose term expires in 2012.