Club for Growth targets Sen. Bennett

The Club for Growth took a significant step Tuesday toward opposing Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in the GOP Senate primary.

The Club announced an advertising and letter-writing campaign targeted at the 3,200 likely delegates to the state Republican convention. Those delegates will have a big say in who the party’s 2010 Senate nominee is.

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It is sending a letter to each of the delegates and running an ad hitting Bennett for advocating “government-run healthcare” — a reference to the healthcare bill he authored with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The ad says Bennett is teaming with “liberal Democrats” and features a mock Bennett website detailing the costs of the plan.

The ad says the proposal “pushes you out of your current plan,” and that will result in job-killing tax increases.

The Club says the effort is part of a $1.2 million campaign battling the current healthcare proposals. But the effort focuses on the Bennett-Wyden proposal, and the targets of the letters are notable because of the electoral situation Bennett finds himself in.

Bennett is facing a primary challenge from state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has also said he might challenge the longtime senator in the primary.

Club Executive Director David Keating said in a statement that the organization is in the "preliminary stages" of looking at the Utah Senate race.

“Sen. Bennett’s support for a health care plan that massively increases government control and taxes is definitely a major factor in our decision to look at alternatives, whether it be Attorney General Shurtleff, Congressman Chaffetz or someone else," Keating said.

Delegates to the state party convention participate in a multi-ballot nominating process where, if 60 percent agree on the final ballot between two candidates, that candidate receives the party’s nomination.

If the delegates don’t give one candidate 60 percent, the race goes to a primary.

But even if the delegates appear unlikely to nominate someone other than Bennett, lobbying them to oppose Bennett could allow Shurtleff or someone else to at least hold Bennett under the 60 percent threshold needed to force a primary. From there, it would be up to voters, who last cycle unseated incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in favor of Chaffetz.

Chaffetz recently bought several domain names, including one for a potential Senate run, ChaffetzforSenate.com. He insists that the domains were bought as a pre-emptive strike against Internet “squatters,” who buy up potentially lucrative domain names that they can later sell.

The Club has made a name for itself by going after incumbent Republicans in primaries, including taking down Reps. Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) in recent cycles. The Club has also opposed centrist Senate Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who is now a Democrat, and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.).

But the Club has some other potentially attractive opportunities in 2010, including former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio’s (R) campaign against stimulus-supporting Gov. Charlie Crist (R).

Bennett has a more conservative record than Specter, Chafee or Crist, but Utah’s nominating convention is filled with the most conservative elements of the state GOP, making a challenge from the right easier and, because of the nature of the process and the small nature of the state, cheaper.

Bennett’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

-- This story was updated at 10:48 a.m.