Over the weekend the extreme peril faced by Republican Sen. Bob Bennett turned into abject defeat at the Utah GOP Convention. By finishing third on the penultimate convention ballot, the incumbent was excluded from the June 22 primary. Indeed, on the final ballot the primary nearly got canceled, as businessman Tim Bridgewater came close to the 60 percent necessary to be proclaimed the party nominee. Instead, he will face former Samuel Alito law clerk Mike Lee, a favorite of national hard-core conservatives such as Jim DeMint and the RedState crowd. Bennett could run in the primary (or even in the general election) as a write-in candidate, but given his dismal performance at the convention despite many weeks of dire warnings that he was in trouble, he’ll probably hang it up at the age of 76 after three Senate terms.
Bennett’s non-Utah enemies are unsurprisingly crowing over this event, which they view as an object lesson in what happens to RINOs (though Bennett is probably the most conservative elected official to earn that term of opprobrium) who don’t recant such sins as a vote for TARP and support for some sort of bipartisan health care reform initiative. As 538.com’s Nate Silver pointed out, Utah’s extremely unusual nominating process limits the predictive value of Bennett’s fall (you could also add that Utah’s overwhelmingly Republican electorate made the risk of dumping an incumbent lower than in more competitive states). Still, the shock waves among Bennett’s Republican colleagues in Washington over this development are worth their weight in gold to those fighting to move the GOP ever faster to the right. Bennett’s fate will certainly cross the mind of the rare Republican considering a vote for any major legislation backed by the Obama administration.
But the other bit of fallout from Bennett’s defeat may not play out for a good while: the exceptionally unsuccessful personal effort by Mitt Romney to save Bennett’s bacon. Romney endorsed Bennett many months ago and cut ads for him, but more importantly, he was present at the convention to introduce the incumbent in a speech that drew as many catcalls as cheers. While it’s unlikely that Mitt did too much damage to his status as an adopted favorite son of Utah, it did show the limits of his personal clout in a state where he’s considered an icon thanks both to his LDS faith and his 2002 Olympics effort. If he can’t move a small number of delegates in Utah, how well will he do in an arena like the Iowa caucuses, where he was trounced by Mike Huckabee in 2008?
As it happens, Romney isn’t the only potential 2012 presidential candidate who’s gotten into hot water with conservatives during the last few days. The other is none other than Sarah Palin, as Andy Barr of Politico explains:
Former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Carly Fiorina in California’s Senate race has prompted a fervent blowback on her Facebook page, long Palin’s safe haven for delivering her message.
The revolt is coming from Palin supporters who also back Chuck DeVore — a Tea Party favorite who is campaigning against Fiorina in the Republican primary.
Palin’s Facebook page is littered with comments opposing her endorsement of Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
Palin had earlier made many of her followers unhappy by endorsing John McCain over J.D. Hayworth in Arizona, but most had probably written that off to personal gratitude to her former running mate. And while Palin’s endorsement of Fiorina was easy to understand — she’s a fellow female conservative who played a visible role in the McCain-Palin campaign, and also has the bulk of national anti-abortion endorsements — the atmosphere in hard-right circles is clearly becoming less tolerant to those who don’t follow the conservative zeitgeist towards ideological rigorists like DeVore. That may be the enduring impact of the Utah Republican rejection of Bennett.
In polling news, both Rasmussen and Muhlenberg now show Joe Sestak moving ahead of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, on tap for May 18. And at pollster.com, Harry Enten marshals the evidence that Sestak would be stronger than Specter in the general election contest with Republican Pat Toomey.
According to Calbuzz, private polling is showing Steve Poizner beginning to seriously erode Meg Whitman’s once-vast lead in the California Republican gubernatorial primary. And in a sign that eMeg could indeed be panicking a bit, she’s running a radio ad that features none other than Pete Wilson vouching for her tough attitude towards illegal immigrants — a gesture that could cost her dearly among Latino voters in a general election.