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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ideological Games in Utah

Yesterday’s one statewide primary (not runoff) was in Utah, where two contests of national significance played out pretty much as expected.
Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, a Blue Dog who fell just short of the 60% of delegates needed to win the nomination at the State Democratic Convention last month, defeated retired schoolteacher and progressive activist Claudia Wright by a comfortable 68-32 margin. The rumored Republican crossover vote for Wright didn’t appear, and local progressives are probably satisfied they got Matheson’s attention before knuckling down to help him get re-elected.
The Republican Senate primary between entrepreneur Tim Bridgewater and attorney (and former SCOTUS clerk) Mike Lee was, as anticipated, very close, but Lee won 51-49, a margin of just under 4,000 votes. Lee fought Bridgewater pretty much to a draw in the major population centers of the Wasatch Front, and won the runoff with a 60-40 victory in southwest Utah’s Washington County.
The national resonance of Lee’s narrow win derives from its importance to national conservative forces, notably Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund (which became a campaign issue on grounds that DeMint was intervening in the state to secure a dumping ground for SC nuclear waste), FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Express and Erick Erickson of RedState. Indeed, some of Lee’s national supporters insisted on treating Bridgewater as no better than vanquished incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, who finished third at the state convention and thus didn’t qualify for the primary.
As I noted in the runup to the Utah primary, the Lee-Bridgewater contest showed how rapidly the GOP is moving to the right, because supposed RINO Bridgewater held a variety of policy positions (including abolition of corporate and personal income taxation and the phasing out of several major federal departments) that would until recently have placed him on the far fringes of the conservative movement. And redefining conservatism to require ever-more-extreme positions is precisely what the out-of-state forces supporting Lee want to do.

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