The contest between Senator Bob Bennett and his challengers reached a fever pitch within the state today at the Republican State Party’s nominating convention. Large numbers of grassroots groups had aligned against the Senator, leading to a situation where for the first time ever an incumbent of the Republican party failed to make it to the primary election.

Delegate surveys prior to the convention showed Bennett in third place behind attorney Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater. Bennett had spent heavily on advertising prior to the convention, but failed to sway enough delegates.

The delegates to the convention were recently elected in neighborhood caucus meetings where an unprecedented 75,000 people attended. The convention contained the highest percentage of delegate attendance in many years, with only 48 of the 3,500 total delegates not in attendance. Over 80% of all state delegates are serving for the first time.

After the first round of voting for the senator seat, Bob Bennett was in third behind Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, both candidates backed by tea party groups. And in the second round of voting Bennett was eliminated for failing to place in the top two.  In the final runoff, neither Lee nor Bridgewater was able to secure 60% of the delegates, meaning a runoff will occur in Utah on primary day, June 22nd.

Because the deadline for filing has already passed, Bennett cannot run as an independent. The convention recognized Bennett’s many years of service and he was applauded for his past work.

Many of the candidates speaking at the convention invoked imagery from the US Constitution and quoted founding fathers. Common among the delegates were shirts, flags, and buttons displaying the “Don’t Tread On Me” coiled snake logo. Tea parties, the 9-12 movement, Utah Rising, Independence Caucus, and Patrick Henry Caucus have all been mentioned as having a huge impact on citizen involvement, and were widely applauded by the delegates when mentioned by candidates.

Also of prominence in the convention were statements about the limits of the federal government and the rights of the states. U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz said, “It was the states that created the federal government, not the federal government that created the states.”

Most of delegates, when interviewed, confirmed that they had never served as a delegate, and most had never attended the state convention or even a caucus meeting. The primary reasons cited by delegates spoken to were a concern about the increase in size of the federal government and a resulting loss of liberties.