Update December 4th: Fred Lampropoulos bows out of Senate race to capitalize on business opportunity; updated post HERE.
As expected, the suspension of Mark Shurtleff's U.S. Senate campaign has attracted yet another contestant for incumbent Bob Bennett's U.S. Senate seat. Fred Lampropoulos, founder and CEO of Merit Medical, intends to challenge the three-term incumbent. The 60-year-old Lampropoulos, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2004, confirmed on Tuesday November 24th that he is in the race, although an official announcement is not expected until some time after Thanksgiving.
The South Jordan Republican has served as chief executive officer and president of Merit Medical Systems Inc. since he founded the medical device company in 1987. The company employs 1,900 people, 1,200 in Utah. He has a personal fortune that could be used, under federal campaign finance laws, to finance his bid. He joins a field already crowded with James Williams, who filed in January 2009, Cherilyn Eagar, who announced her candidacy in June, and recent entrant Tim Bridgewater, who joined the race in October. All of Bennett's GOP rivals are challenging him from the right, criticizing his support of the original government stimulus package, his work obtaining earmarks for Utah businesses and local government and his collaboration on a health-care reform bill that has yet to gain much congressional traction.
Sam Granato is the only Democrat in the race.
Another Salt Lake Tribune article answers the next question; why is Lampropoulos jumping into the race? Lampropoulos said that Shurtleff's withdrawal had very little effect; instead, he's pissed off about reform legislation passed by the U.S. House would impose a 2.5 percent tax on the wholesale purchase of medical devices by hospitals, clinics and labs. The Senate version, yet to be debated, would tax a percentage of total earnings by medical device companies. But even though Bennett and other Republicans are opposing the legislation, that's not good enough for Lampropoulos.
"We provide all these jobs and spend $10 million to $15 million a year on research and development," Lampropoulos bristled. "To be singled out in such a discriminatory manner because of the field we're in is outrageous."
Lampropoulos, who could under federal campaign finance laws fuel his bid with unlimited use of his personal wealth, declined to say what he expected to spend on the race. In 2004, he spent about $1.6 million of his own money on his failed bid for Utah governor. Bennett is also raking in big bucks. Bennett doesn't take the challenge personally, saying that he and Lampropoulos not only are friends, but that Lampropoulos previously supported him.
Opponent Tim Bridgewater responded by calling Lampropoulos a formidable contender who, like Bennett, can likely outspend him four-to-one. "Fred's a friend of mine," Bridgewater said. "I hope he'll endorse me when I win in convention," said Bridgewater, 49, who says the 76-year-old Bennett's age could be an issue. [Ed. Note: If Bridgewater plays the "age" card, he can kiss off an AARP endorsement.]
Another opponent, Cherilyn Eagar, spoke with Lampropoulos Monday night about his decision. "I told him I supported him for governor and don't think I'll support him for Senate. We'll make it a good run," Eagar said. "We share the same goal -- to unseat Bob Bennett."
No reaction by James Williams was recorded. The media and the Republican establishment are increasingly ignoring his campaign. Other political observers say Lampropoulos' campaign experience, funding and connections throughout the state make him a serious contender. In addition, Lampropoulos is LDS, which doesn't hurt in a state which is still two-thirds Mormon.
Since publishing this post, the Deseret News has posted an article detailing the amount of money Lampropoulos has contributed to other campaigns. He has contributed to 83 candidates for the Utah Legislature or other statewide offices (73 were Republicans and 10 were Democrats). He also personally donated to four GOP candidates to Congress. This tells me he's trying to buy a heck of a lot of "loyalty".
Utah Pulse provides some background information on Lampropoulos. Fred’s father Pete, a Greek-American, brought his family west from Boston, first to Cheyenne and Rock Springs, Wyoming, and then to Salt Lake City in the summer of 1964. He opened up an insurance agency. Fred grew up, and after a quarter at the University of Utah and another at Westminster, money got scarce. With the Vietnam War looming, Fred decided to take matters into his own hands; not only did he volunteer, he signed up for the Green Berets and became a Special Forces soldier. Before he was finished, he would become an officer and a jumpmaster and would encourage others to go ahead and leap from perfectly good airplanes.
Discipline, responsibility, accountability. All three became ingrained in Fred Lampropoulos’ character even before he moved into business. At the age of 20 when his military tour of duty was over, he joined the family insurance business. More responsibility, more accountability. However, Fred's dad wasn't ready to turn the family business over to him, so Fred went his own way, initially joining Dean Witter. From there, he found out about a small ailing company called Utah medical; the rest is history as he transformed it into the prosperous Merit Medical he runs today.
His public service portfolio includes service on the Executive Committee for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the National Advisory Board of the University of Utah, as chairman of the Tuacahn Center for the Performing Arts, as a board member of the American Heart Association of Utah, on the MBA Advisory Board of Westminster College, as a board member of the Utah Taxpayers Association, on the KUED Friends Board, as Honorary Colonel in the Utah National Guard, and on the Executive Committee of the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America. An October Deseret News article provides even more background.
With this type of background combined with his wealth, Fred Lampropoulos instantly becomes a formidable contender for Bob Bennett's Senate seat. The question is, will he and Bennett squeeze and spend Cherilyn Eagar right out of the race? Her road to victory has just become much steeper. I would hate to see Eagar knocked out of the race simply because two old bulls are battering each other with their wallets. Needless to say, both James Williams and Tim Bridgewater have instantly become anecdotal; the former simply isn't getting any publicity, and the latter is gaining no grass-roots traction.