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Posted at 02:10 PM ET, 06/08/2011

Utah’s Bob Bennett: 2012 election may not be as anti-incumbent as 2010


(By Steve C. Wilson/Associated Press)
Will 2012 be another anti-incumbent year?

One of the first casualties of last cycle’s “throw the bums out” fervor says probably not.

Former senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who lost his bid for a fourth term last May when he was ousted at the state Republican Party convention, said during a Capitol Hill visit last week that he believes the voter anger of 2010 that swept out longtime incumbents such as himself will have subsided by next year – and that may make the road ahead easier for another Utah Republican up for reelection in 2012, Sen. Orrin Hatch.

“I think the ‘we hate incumbents’ may well subside, and that Orrin won’t face the desire to get rid of everyone,” Bennett said in a brief interview late last week after an event on the House side of the Capitol. “The talk show hosts that are screaming, ‘Get rid of all incumbents,’ reached their peak in 2010. And they did get rid of them, a whole bunch of incumbents. Now, that seems to be subsiding. Some of those talk show hosts are losing their shows or dropping their columns and so on. So it could be a different atmosphere.”

Bennett, who came under withering criticism from conservative activists for his support for the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program and his nearly two decades of Senate service, faced seven competitors at the May 2010 convention. He progressed past the first round of balloting but was defeated on the second, bested by attorney Mike Lee and former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater. Lee eked out a narrow victory over Bridgewater in the June primary and later went on to win the seat in November.

Bennett said that he believes Hatch is doing what he needs to be doing to prepare for a potentially tough primary – Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is among those who have been gearing up for a bid – although he noted that the electoral environment can change quickly.

“As usual, politics can change dramatically in a relatively short period of time,” Bennett said. “This far out in my race, we saw an entirely different dynamic than actually occurred. And I think Orrin is very well-positioned; he’s waging a typical Hatch campaign, which is very vigorous, across-the-board, full-court press. And we’ll have to see. Now, if the environment remains what it was when I went through the convention, he will have a very tough convention. But environments almost never remain that way. He’s doing all of the kinds of things he thinks he ought to do in order to survive.”

A spokeswoman for Hatch said that the Utah Republican “understands that people are rightly angry at Washington and is frankly angry too.”

“A minute doesn’t go by that Senator Hatch isn’t putting forward solutions to the pressing issues that are important to Utah,” Hatch spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said. “He’s reaching out as far and wide as he can to Utahns of all stripes. He doesn’t take anything for granted because he knows that his service in the Senate is an honor and privilege that he has to earn.”

Bennett added that he believed some Utah voters are regretting their anti-incumbent fervor of last year.

“I have heard from some people in Utah who were part of that and very active in the movement to get rid of me who have come to me and said, ‘We have buyer’s remorse. We made a mistake,’ ” Bennett said. He declined to elaborate as to why voters may be thinking twice about their vote, saying only that there are “a lot of reasons.”

Asked whether he has offered his support to Hatch, Bennett said that he’s told his Utah colleague that “he has my full support if he wants it,” although “it may be in this atmosphere that he wants to say, ‘Look, let me run my own race.’ ”

The former senator also said that he believed one misstep he and his campaign team made last year was assuming that he would be able to win over at least some of the convention delegates who described themselves as undecided.

“The emotion of the time was very, very high — fever pitch — and the mistake I made, and I will confess, as we did the polling of the delegates, they showed a very high undecided,” Bennett said. “And I assumed that some of those undecided were available to me. It turned out not a one of them was. They were not undecided about me. It was, ‘Get rid of the incumbent.’ ”

Hatch, like Bennett, has faced criticism for his 2008 TARP vote. And recent polling shows the potential for the same kind of anti-incumbent sentiment that marked the 2010 midterms to rear its head once more in 2012.

But Hatch has been actively courting conservative activists on the ground in Utah as well as at national venues such as February’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

With Utah’s 2012 state Republican Party convention 10 months away, Bennett said that the biggest question for Hatch will be, “Is there going to be this overwhelming outpouring of ‘We hate everybody who’s there?’ ”

“The head of the tea party movement in Utah was asked, ‘What do you think about Senator Bennett?’ and he said, ‘Senator Bennett is very intelligent, he’s done a great job for the state of Utah and I cannot vote for him under any circumstances, because he’s been there more than 12 years,’ ” Bennett said. “Well, Orrin’s been there 36. So, we shall see.”

By  |  02:10 PM ET, 06/08/2011

 
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