Tea Party members divided over Lee and Bridgewater

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Tea Party members are divided over which Republican candidate should run for Sen. Bob Bennett's Senate seat. The primary election is next week, when GOP voters will decide between Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater.

At the State Republican Party Convention last month, the Tea Party movement had a unified purpose: to jettison the incumbent. But now there's a choice between two newcomers.

This week, Tea Party member and Glen Beck 9-12 Project supporter Darcy Van Orden released a list of 31 Tea Party leaders who are all Lee-backers.

"For me it's about restoring this country, instilling back these constitutional principles, and bringing back the constitutional debate," Van Orden said.

In the midst of all the issues, Van Orden says a big tipping point for her, and the rest, was last week when Bennett officially endorsed Bridgewater.

"Bob Bennett supports Tim Bridgewater, but ‘We the people' support Mike lee," she said.

However, Utah's own Tea Party founder, David Kirkham, has a different view on that.

"Both Lee and Brigewater, both courted Bennett's vote," Kirkham said.

Kirkham also pointed out that Bridgewater gained support from fellow Bennett-challenger Cherilyn Eagar and, he says, won most of the Tea Party delegates at the convention.

"Over 57 percent of the delegates supported Tim Bridgewater," Kirkham said. "And they're entitled to their opinion -- I have no problem with that at all -- but I don't think the majority of the Tea Party is behind Mike Lee."

But since the convention, the game has changed. Support may have shifted among Tea Partiers, and no one really knows which candidate is striking a chord the most with the wider voting pool -- at least not yet.

The official primary day is June 22; early voting is going on now. The Republican winner will face Democrat Sam Granato in November.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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