Sen. McConnell laments defeat of 'outstanding conservative' in Bennett

Utah Republicans defeated an "outstanding conservative" in Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) this past weekend, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Monday.

McConnell lamented Utah conservatives' decision at a party convention on Saturday not to renominate Bennett as the GOP's Senate candidate in the state.

"Utah — and the nation — has lost an outstanding conservative Republican senator," McConnell said on ABC News's "Top Line" webcast.

Bennett had served as a member of the Senate Republican leadership as counsel to McConnell, and was considered a top ally of the minority leader.

"It is the only state in the country where you don't have a way to get on the ballot unless you go through a convention," McConnell said, noting the unusual circumstance in which Bennett was defeated without a statewide primary vote.

Utah delegates voted for businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee ahead of Bennett, and the two will face off in a June 22 primary.

Still, McConnell warned: "I'm not sure we can read too much into it."

The Kentucky Republican said the same of his home state, where Secretary of State Trey Grayson, whom McConnell endorsed, is running in a GOP primary against physician Rand Paul, the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who's won increased support from state conservatives.

"We've got a unity rally scheduled for the Saturday after the Tuesday primary," McConnell said, downplaying the reported rifts in the state over the race. "I think there's an excellent chance that Kentucky will keep this seat in Republican hands."