Lee Scores Upset in Utah’s GOP Senate Primary; Matheson Survives Challenge
One big surprise and one cruise to victory in the Beehive State, as attorney Mike Lee scored an upset victory in the state’s Republican Senate primary and incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson (D) easily won renomination.
The Associated Press called the race for Lee several hours after the polls closed and it became clear he would maintain his narrow lead. As of noon Wednesday, Lee led Bridgewater 51-49 percent with more than 99 percent of precincts reporting. Lee’s win was a surprise, especially after a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll released over the weekend showed Bridgewater leading Lee by 9 percentage points, 42-33. Approximately 25 of the poll’s respondents were undecided, so undecided voters may have broken heavily for Lee.
Lee will face state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission chairman Sam Granato (D) in the general election.
Lee’s win is also an upset over the results of the May 8 state nominating convention, where Lee ended up in second place behind Bridgewater. Incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett (R), who got knocked out of the running after coming in third, had also lined up behind Bridgewater. Though both candidates were widely considered to be affiliated with the Tea Party movement, Lee had the backing of two of the movement’s key players and groups: FreedomWorks PAC and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
Meanwhile, Matheson garnered an easy win in his primary against retired high school teacher and college adjunct Claudia Wright, escaping a brush with the same fate that befell Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.). Matheson led Wright 68-33 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Wright ran to Matheson’s left, criticizing his willingness to buck the party on issues like health care reform. Despite a poll that showed Matheson leading Wright by 19 points, he sought late campaign and financial support from fellow members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.