UT-Sen: Shurtleff Accidentally Launches Candidacy Against Bennett

For reasons that remain unclear to me, the GOP has rushed to embrace Twitter as the tool that will lead them out of the wilderness. (Maybe it’s because it’s a medium that not only doesn’t require you to have thoughts that take up more than 140 characters, but that doesn’t even allow them.) Nevertheless, over its short lifetime, the GOP’s infatuation with Twitter seems to have produced more petard-hoistings and outright FAILs than it has victories for the GOP’s twits:

• the time errant tweets scuttled a GOP plan to flip a Dem to take control of the Virginia Senate,

• House Intelligence ranking member Pete Hoekstra twittering away his positions in Iraq,

Wayne Mosely‘s recent hilarious overselling of his campaign,

Joe Barton‘s hubris over what he perceived as his takedown of Energy Secretary Steven Chu followed by his twittering away with catty remarks like a bored teenager during the SOTU, and

• somebody’s decision to direct the entire #NY20 feed onto Jim Tedisco‘s website, Dem press releases and all.

Well, we have an incident that may beat all of those: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff accidentally announced his own candidacy for the GOP Senate nomination on his Twitter account, apparently thinking that he was just texting to an acquaintance instead. (His account has been scrubbed, but the memory lives on, hewn in the living rock of screen capture.) According to the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I’m announcing I’m running at 12,” Shurtleff wrote in part of a series of garbled messages, called tweets on the digital networking system.

In another he said he would have “all of the legislative conservative causcus (sic) and other senators and representatives there endorsing me. Time to rock and roll!”

Shurtleff later amended his statement to say that he was still deciding, and would make a formal announcement regarding his plans on May 20.

So, all’s well that ends well… uh, wait, what? There’s a competitive Senate race in Utah? Don’t they already have Bob Bennett? It’s true: with Shurtleff’s, um, entry into the race, it’s a major primary challenge to Utah’s long-serving (since 1992) junior senator. No one would mistake the uncontroversial Bennett for a moderate, but there’s enough rabid conservatism in Utah that Bennett’s vote for the bailout bill last year (and his unforgivable willingess to occasionally engage his Democratic colleagues in productive conversation) are apparently justification enough for a challenge from the very right.

Utah is also enough of a one-party state that primary challenges within the GOP are the only way for ambitious, restive younger members to climb the ladder. That was what happened last year in UT-03, where young movement-conservative Jason Chaffetz picked off longtime establishment Rep. Chris Cannon.

There’s at least an outside shot of that same thing happening here, and that’s partially due to Utah’s weird nominating system. GOP candidates go through a May 2010 nominating convention, where ballots are taken repeatedly with the lowest-scoring candidate removed after each round, until two men remain, both of whom advance to the primary… but if any candidate gets more than 60% of the vote at any point, he not only wins the nomination but there isn’t even a primary election. When Chaffetz won the nominating convention in 2008 (although not clearing the 60% bar), that was a clear indicator that he was the man to beat going into the UT-03 primary.

If Shurtleff is correct about having locked down the support of the conservative wing among the state legislators, he may have a shot at winning it outright at the state convention. At any rate, the convention looks like it’ll be hotly contested, and one wonders whether Bennett can survive the primary even if he makes it through the convention; I wonder if the same thing happened in Utah last year (where Obama dramatically improved on Kerry’s numbers, albeit still losing badly) as in Pennsylvania, where a share of the moderates (who Bennett would need to win the primary) threw up their hands and became Dems, leaving behind a more purely distilled primary base.

It gets even more complicated than that, as two other Republican candidates are sniffing around the race: Tom Bridgewater, a former top McCain aide, also announced on Tuesday (by Twitter, natch), that he was going to drop his candidacy for state GOP chair and instead form an exploratory committee to run against Bennett. (Bridgewater failed in 2006 and 2008 to win the GOP primary for the right to lose to Jim Matheseon in UT-02; he’s also an investment partner of… get this… Neil Bush, the Bush brother who’s too corrupt to be a viable candidate for office.) Then there’s also David Leavitt, the former Juab County Attorney (and brother of former governor Mike Leavitt) who was talking up his candidacy for many months but hasn’t been heard from recently. (As first reported by Senate Guru, Dems have a viable, or at least well-known, candidate in the race, Sam Granato, the chair of the Utah Liquor Control Commission and owner of a deli chain.)

So, with the FL-Sen, MO-Sen, and KS-Sen 2010 primaries turning into establishment vs. movement conservative free-for-alls (and with the plug having been pulled on that same battle in PA-Sen), it looks like UT-Sen is turning into one more presto log on the hellfire as the GOP finally has its long-promised battle of Armageddon for the party’s heart and soul.

16 thoughts on “UT-Sen: Shurtleff Accidentally Launches Candidacy Against Bennett”

  1. That was really good!

    This really could be the open GOP civil war that’s been brewing for a long time.  Pop the popcorn, as this will be fun to watch.

    I could totally see Bennett being seriously challenged.  Him and Senator Hatch are conservatives of the more sane variety, and I guess that’s not good enough anymore.

  2. If Bennett lost at the R nominating stage, could he and would he consider running as an independent in the general election?  I recall looking at his favorable/unfavorable numbers a while back and they were very good.  I imagine even an independent Bennett would still caucus with the Rs and generally vote their way, but he might be at least a little more indempendent minded.

    I don’t have much hope for Mr. Granato.   Chair of the state Liquor Control Commission and owner of a deli chain are not the stuff of top tier candidates.

    Last point, is this the race that Rothenberg wrote about a while back about a primary challenge to a well respected Republican senator from the right?  It sure seems to fit.

  3. That “errant tweet” came from the then-Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Jeff Frederick.

    Last month, he was OUSTED as RPV chairman, and it takes a super-duper majority vote of three-fourths to do that! (Though there were other issues with his chairmanship as well).

    And get this: when he was selected chairman, he pledged not to run for re-election in the VA House (I guess so that he could concentrate on running the VA GOP).  The deadline has passed for filing re-election papers, so he really screwed himself.

  4. It’s another battle in what may or may not become a total war to define control of the GOP.

    The battle royale, of course, the one to which all of these are preludes, is the presidential nomination of 2012.  That contest will contain an extra wrinkle depending on how well Obama is doing by mid-2011; there’s a small chance the establishment side of the GOP will choose to sit the contest out, let the crazies win the nomination and lose the (already unwinnable) contest by atrocious margins, and then take the opportunity to label that side of the party defeated, and seize control going into the likely much-more-competitive open-seat election of 2016.  That may be the best strategy for unveiling a real GOP 2.0 that is designed to appeal to a demographically changed electorate: let the white populists have 2012, let them fail miserably, and then roll out something and someone that is a very significant departure from that dead strain of politics.  A diversity-friendly but market-oriented and economically-minimalist politics could recapture big chunks of the suburban and professional vote, and assuming it made up some ground with gays, women, Hispanics, Asians, and young people, such a platform ought to be competitive nationally.  It is possible to have an economically minimalist party that isn’t also religious and bigoted, and 2016 may not be too soon for it to emerge from the spot where Sarah Palin now stands.  Or, of course, it might be.  

    It really is too bad for them that Crist is gay, because he would be exactly the kind of guy who might could do this.  I’d say there’s a good chance they’ll eventually have to go the Obama route, and nominate a brand-spanking-new-guy who wasn’t around for the toxic mistakes of the recent past (for us, the Iraq vote, for them, the tribalism).

    Anyway, these are warm-up battles for that contest, and the more of them we have and the stronger the tribal-types prove, the better it is for us in the short term.  

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