Utah Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Bridgewater picked up one important endorsement on June 9th, 2010, and on June 11th, grabbed an even more important endorsement just days before the June 22nd Republican primary. Media stories published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5.
The first endorsement came from former opponent Cherilyn Eagar. Although Eagar likes and respects both Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater personally, she believes Bridgewater's business background is much more needed in Washington, since Mike Lee is a lawyer, and the latest count shows 54 lawyers in the U.S. Senate. Because of Eagar's close ties to the Utah Eagle Forum and activity in other social conservative causes, this endorsement is expected to deliver many social conservatives who may have been skeptical of Bridgewater. Bridgewater is quite appreciative and posted his reaction HERE.
But the bigger endorsement came from the incumbent, Bob Bennett. Multiple sources familiar with the discussions between Bennett and the Bridgewater camps, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, confirmed that Bennett would formally endorse Bridgewater within the next few days. Bennett made it official on June 11th. Initially, the Bridgewater campaign would not confirm an endorsement is imminent, while Bennett declined to comment on June 9th. But he did not deny he would be backing Bridgewater, and hinted an announcement was forthcoming, perhaps as early as June 14th. Bennett allegedly first offered his support to Bridgewater shortly after he was ousted at the May 8th state Republican Convention. Bridgewater has now posted his reaction to the Bennett endorsement HERE.
The Mike Lee campaign says Bennett's endorsement of Bridgewater merely reinforces the notion that the election of Bridgewater will mean business as usual, and believes it will boost Mike Lee's credentials as being the "true" conservative. But after Bennett announced his endorsement of Bridgewater, Mike Lee said that if Bennett had offered it to him instead, he would have accepted it.
Professional political observers are not sure how to call it. Quin Monson, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU, said "The problem with Bennett with this crowd is he's such a mixed bag. People have real mixed feelings about him...On the balance, this will probably help Bridgewater more than it will hurt him among those arch-conservatives who cheered when he was defeated." University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said it's not clear whether Bennett's decision to weigh in on the race will help or hurt Bridgewater, although he does believe the Bennett endorsement lends credibility to Bridgewater's campaign and can help voters distinguish between two seemingly similar candidates. But Burbank also cautioned that Lee could exploit the endorsement to suggest he's the candidate who better represents change in Washington (which Lee's staff has already done). The Washington Post thinks Bennett's endorsement will only marginally benefit Bridgewater.
Both candidates have money for the last-minute sprint. But it's an interesting dichotomy; while Bridgewater has over twice as much cash available to him as Mike Lee, Lee has been raising money at nearly twice the rate as Bridgewater. Much of Bridgewater's campaign has been self-funded through loans he's made to it.
Why the shift towards Bridgewater? Both candidates are considered equally honorable and qualified. Mike Lee's background as an attorney is impressive, and his understanding of and devotion to the Constitution is impressive. But we already have 54 lawyers in the Senate, and yet we have a $13 trillion national debt. Lawyers not only tend to have more job security than others, but are more insulated from the pressures of making a payroll. In short, they lack intimate familiarity with rough-and-tumble enterpreneurial capitalism, and so they become less sensitive to the need to conserve the public wealth.
In contrast, Tim Bridgewater is a classical entepreneurial capitalist, having started a number of companies. He's quite experienced in dealing with the pressure of having to make a payroll. As a result, more people believe that Bridgewater will more likely be a fiscal conservative than Lee.
The Bennett endorsement will not be the kiss of death for Bridgewater, because rank-and-file Republicans will be voting in the June 22nd primary. A May 8th Tribune poll showed that Bob Bennett was much more popular amongst rank-and-file Republicans than the more conservative delegates. At that time, 39 percent said they would vote for Bennett compared to 20 percent for Mike Lee and 14 percent for Tim Bridgewater. What Bridgewater needs to do is to ensure that more of those rank-and-file Republicans show up at the polls on June 22nd and not allow the more conservative supervoters to monopolize the election. I believe Tim Bridgewater will win, by as many as 10 percentage points. An unscientific poll currently on KSL's main page shows the following:
What does Sen. Bennett's endorsement of Tim Bridgewater do to your vote in the GOP primary? Out of 537 responses so far:
1. Solidify vote for Bridgewater: 22%
2. Change vote to Bridgewater: 5%
3. Change vote to Lee: 17%
4. Solidify vote for Lee: 19%
5. No effect: 26%
6. I will vote democrat: 11%