But Utah law forbids Bennett from doing what Lieberman did, even though polls indicate Bennett's popularity with the general public, as opposed to the small delegate pool voting in the state GOP convention May 8, is still fairly high.
The reason he can't do it: The J. Bracken Lee law.
While Bennett is getting hammered from his party's far-right wing, which seems to have a hold on a good portion of the convention delegates, his lack of options in trying to retain his seat is the result of one of Utah's original far-right politicians, who was widely popular, and equally controversial, in his day.
Utah law bans a candidate from being certified on the ballot as an independent after he already has been certified as a candidate by a political party. So, because Bennett filed for re-election as a Republican, he couldn't refile as an independent and be put on the ballot, even if he had done so before the filing deadline passed in March.
That law was passed in 1957, a year after Lee, who had served eight years as governor, was defeated in his bid for a third term at the state GOP convention by George Dewey Clyde, who went on to
win the election to become Utah's 10th governor. But after his convention defeat, orchestrated by Republican Sen. Arthur Watkins, Lee filed as an independent, making it an interesting three-way race and causing some discomfort for the state Republican Party, which had enjoyed political dominance during the 1950s.
Lee got his revenge two years later when Watkins was up for re-election and Lee filed as an independent. The law was already in effect prohibiting him from getting certified as an independent if he had been certified first as a Republican. So he never filed as a Republican that year. Lee was still popular with anti-tax conservatives in the party, so he split the Republican vote, giving the election to Democrat Ted Moss.
Lee could have been the original tea-party guy, without the birth certificate, death-panel and "Hitler-gave-good-speeches too" idiocy. He was an opponent of the income tax and believed in small government. As governor, he balanced the budget without raising taxes by drastically cutting spending. He became a national figure in his first term when he declared he would not pay the portion of his income tax that he calculated would be spent on the Korean War.
I knew J. Bracken Lee and interviewed him several times. This original anti-tax, right-wing icon, I believe, would be supporting Bennett, who, despite what you hear at tea parties, is a respected conservative in Washington.
While Lee had his issues with Watkins, he and the other Republican senator -- Wallace F. Bennett, the current senator's father -- campaigned for each other and got along quite well, even when the senior Bennett was attacked from the right wing. The John Birch Society claimed Bennett was soft on Communism, especially when he backed an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to set up consulates in the other's country.
In 1968, that faction ran anti-communist Mark Anderson, who had enough convention support to force the three-term Bennett into a primary. In that larger arena, and in the general election, Bennett won easily.
Whether his son will likewise gain a fourth term remains to be seen, of course. But thanks to J. Bracken Lee, the Lieberman option is out.
E-mail Paul Rolly at firstname.lastname@example.org