Utah tea partier Mike Lee came in only second in the balloting in Utah yesterday that threw out incumbent Senator Robert Bennett, but it was the tea partiers who provided the umph to oust Bennett.
Lee is a lawyer who clerked for Justice Samuel Alito. He's a free marketeer who thinks the economic crisis can be fixed by removing regs on banks and other corporations. He wants the tax burden shifted onto the shoulders of the middle and poorer classes of people through the "flat tax," which will teach 'em a goood lesson about the costs of the social safety net, once they start paying more taxes. He's a "drill, baby, drill" sorta politician who thinks government has no right to tell anybody anything, except when it comes to abortion, and then he's all for government's taking charge of women's lives. He was endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint, patron saint of tea partiers everywhere.
"That the tea party would consider Bob Bennett, one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate, too liberal, just goes to show how extreme that tea party is," Democratic National Chair Tim Kaine said. "If there was any question before, there should now be no doubt that the Republican leadership has handed the reins to the tea party."
The man who finished first in the convention balloting, businessman Tim Bridgewater, will be forced into a June 22nd primary against Lee, whom he beat in convention delegates 57-43 percent. Smart money is on Bridgewater. Mad money is on Lee.
Coming in second seems to be the pattern with some tea party candidates elsewhere, though they're sucking a lot more air out of the Republican closet than their numbers would seem to justify. In the NC-11, for example, the tea party candidate, ophthalmologist Dan Eichenbaum lost the Republican primary to Jeff Miller, a Hendersonville dry-cleaner. Eichenbaum got 34 percent of the vote last Tuesday but fell short of forcing a run-off with Miller, who will now be on the ballot facing Heath Shuler in November.