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for people who care about the West

Utah: A Sagebrush Rebel headed for D.C.

 

Utah's most important election this year was held in the springtime, when angry right-wingers overthrew three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett in the Republican primary.

Mike Lee, a lawyer who pushes high-profile Sagebrush Rebel cases, is now the Republican candidate for Senate. And given Utah's history, Lee will almost certainly crush Democrat Sam Granato to win the seat in November.

Granato has solid Utah credentials -- he's a third-generation Utahn, a Mormon, and a successful businessman who's worked with Republicans to modernize Utah's liquor laws -- but Utahns have not elected a Democratic senator for 38 years. They won't break the string this year.

Soon-to-be-Sen. Lee not only wants the federal government to stop regulating federal land, he believes the state Legislature should seize federal land and kill Utah wilderness bills negotiated by county governments. That's a big change from Sen. Bennett, who'd become the best hope for new Utah wilderness: Bennett helped Washington County locals negotiate a 2009 deal with environmentalists that designated 256,000 acres of wilderness while allowing the sale of up to 9,000 acres of federal land, and he's working with other conservative counties to cut similar deals in their pieces of canyon country.

One high-profile state race still holds a tiny bit of suspense. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert faces a challenger from Utah's Democratic stronghold: Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. Corroon has politics in his blood: He's a first cousin of Howard Dean, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who also ran the Democratic National Committee and served as Vermont's governor. Corroon speaks Spanish, which should appeal to Latino voters. And he even picked a Republican legislator, Sheryl Allen, to be his running mate.

Meanwhile, Gov. Herbert's own credentials are somewhat questionable. He didn't get elected governor; as lieutenant governor, he got promoted last year when then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. became Obama's ambassador to China. Like Huntsman, Herbert has steered to the center right, but lately he's gotten bogged down in a scandal, accused of doing favors for companies that gave him campaign donations.

Still, despite the scandal, the fact remains: Utah has had only Republican governors for the last 26 years.

Best cross-over Sen. Bennett's son, Jim Bennett, has crossed party lines to work as a volunteer for Granato's campaign. He told the Salt Lake Tribune: "If you take the 'D' and the 'R' out of the equation, Sam Granato is more consistent with the values of mainstream Utah than Mike Lee.”