Washington » He would have liked to run. He would have had support. And, he believes, he could have won.
But under the gaze of a portrait of Ronald Reagan, Sen. Bob Bennett told reporters Thursday that mounting a write-in bid would further split the Utah Republican Party, put a huge financial and emotional toll on his family and friends, and in his own words, add to the "toxic," nasty environment already simmering in his home state.
"If I were to do it that would revive all of those passions and divide the party in the state of Utah in a way that might leave wounds that would go on for months if not years to follow," Bennett said in a stoic announcement contrasting with his tearful concession at the May 8 state GOP convention.
"Indeed [it would] divide the state," he continued Thursday. "Those who are saying 'thank you for your service Senator Bennett, but it's time you move on' would feel I was acting as a spoiled sport, and those who say 'it's your obligation to go forward' would then start arguing with each other. And then the atmosphere in the state would be so difficult that it might well be that holding the seat would not be worth it."
Bennett deferred a potential endorsement of one of the two candidates who vanquished him at the convention -- primary rivals Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee -- but appeared to be still smarting from a campaign he suggested at times at teetered at the edge of the gutter.
"I have realized this has been the nastiest race that we have had for a party nomination in the history of the state of Utah for a statewide office," Bennett said.
Utah Republican National Committeeman Bruce Hough said he admired Bennett for his decision to let the democratic process work.
"I like the fact that really he's going out as a statesman, that he's going out as someone who has represented the state well over the last 18 years and he can hold his head high and with dignity and go out as a good sitting senator," Hough said.
Bridgewater also applauded Bennett's decision as the right one.
"I appreciate his dedication and service to the state. While we disagreed on some issues he has worked tirelessly for the state of Utah."
Lee kept his reaction simple but disputed Bennett's take that this year's race was the nastiest ever.
"Senator Bennett is to be commended for his years of service to our state," Lee said. "And I wish him and his family well in their future endeavors."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is in his sixth term, praised Bennett for serving "with quiet dignity and class. So his decision not to run as a write-in candidate in November comes as no surprise to those of us who know and have served with him."
It also shows, said Hatch, "that he places Utah and unity over petty politics and personal ambition."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, referring to Bennett as a "dear friend," said he is a "true conservative who will continue to fight the Democrat agenda of raising taxes, increasing our debt, and reckless spending. I have valued Bob's counsel over the years and will continue to do so as he serves out the remainder of his term."
Looking introspectively, Bennett said he was able to serve 18 years, more than the average term for a U.S. senator and it has been a "wonderful ride."
"I'm tremendously grateful for the people of Utah for giving me that opportunity and grateful for the people here in Washington who have welcomed me to the Senate family and made my service so satisfying," Bennett said.
Bennett declined to take questions from the dozen-plus reporters at the National Republican Senatorial Committee where he made his announcement, but later told KSL's Doug Wright that he was feeling "serene."
"There are more important things in your life, ultimately, than being a U.S. senator and one of them, obviously, is your sense of doing the right thing, feeling comfortable to have made the right decision," Bennett said.
The 76-year-old former business executive also said he is receiving a number of -- not job offers -- but "feelers, probes" from the private sector.
"I had just assumed at my age nobody would be interested in me," Bennett said, "but I'm very gratified that they are."
Bennett won't run
About 3,500 delegates to the Utah Republican Convention reduced the field of eight candidates to just two on May 8. Three-term Sen. Bob Bennett didn't make the cut, finishing third. The top two vote-getters, Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee, advance to a June 22 primary election. Bennett, by his announcement Thursday, closed off the prospect of a write-in candidacy.
Video of Bennett press conference