SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Republicans will choose their U.S. Senate nominee Tuesday in a race that will christen the favorite to be the state’s next junior senator. Provo businessman Tim Bridgewater and Alpine attorney Mike Lee are vying to replace three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, who they defeated at the GOP state convention in May. In heavily Republican Utah, whoever wins the GOP nomination should have an easy path to victory in November. A Democrat hasn’t been elected to the U.S. Senate from Utah since 1970. The Democratic nominee, restaurateur and Department of Alcoholic Beverage control chairman Sam Granato, has never sought public office before and has had trouble raising money and drawing media attention. Lee and Bridgewater rose to prominence by promising to be more conservative than Bennett and rein in federal spending. They both have the backing of tea party activists, and have struggled to distinguish themselves from one another in the six and a half weeks since the Republican convention. Among other similarities, both say they support term limits, want to repeal the new health care law and wean the country off Social Security. In advertisements and debates, the two have focused mostly on their professional backgrounds. “I don’t think there’s a large difference between them on the issues. So what we’re left with is differences in background and style,” said Brigham Young University political scientist Quin Monson. “It’s not the most compelling thing to drive people to turn out and vote.” Election officials predict turnout will be below 15 percent based on early returns and historical voting trends. Lee, 38, contends that as a constitutional scholar who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, he’s better suited to limit the role of government to what the country’s founders intended it to be. Bridgewater, 49, the founder of a consulting firm specializing in emerging markets, contends that his business background means he’s better suited to help create jobs. Utah’s six-term senior senator, Sen. Orrin Hatch, did not endorse in the primary. Bennett endorsed Bridgewater largely because of his business background.
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