“The reality is we are behind,” he said at a news conference on Thursday. “With the limbo-like state my campaign has been in, it’s made it difficult to raise money and difficult to build a campaign.”
He has $2,500 in his campaign bank account. Democrat Kathie Allen has reported raising nearly $680,000. Among Republicans, Provo Mayor John Curtis reported raising nearly $465,000; former state Rep. Chris Herrod raised $159,000; and businessman Tanner Ainge raised $130,000.
Still, Bennett optimistically outlined plans for his campaign now that U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer ruled that state officials did not allow enough time for the new middle-of-the-political-spectrum party to qualify for the special election, and ordered that Bennett be included in the race.
“Everything resets after the [Aug. 15] Republican primary as everyone gears up for the general election. So we’re going to be at the starting line along with everybody else,” Bennett said.
He said he is confident he will have the organization to “run a vigorous race and to win. I’m not running to make a statement. I’m not running just to publicize our party. I’m running to win,” he said.
He said he aims to raise “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” but hinted at plans for a bare-bones campaign. “Television advertising at this point doesn’t matter nearly as much, I think , as a vigorous social-media campaign, which is far less expensive.”
Bennett — son of the late Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, and himself a Republican until the candidacy of Donald Trump — says he’s aiming for people upset with extremes in the Republican and Democratic parties.
He said that in Utah, “We’ve never had a Republican president that is so unpopular…. The party of Trump is wildly unpopular and people are looking for an alternative. I am that alternative.”
Bennett added, “I didn’t leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left me. But the principles I believed in when I was a Republican are still the principles I believe in today, and some of them are in direct contradiction to what the Republican Party, namely the party of Trump, stands for right now.”
Despite the lost time and money on the legal battle, Bennett said, “To some degree the state has done us a tremendous favor by showing how scared they are of the United Utah Party and doing everything they can to keep me off the ballot. “
He added, “We challenged the state and won, and I’m going to continue to do that sort of thing when I get to Washington, D.C.”
Bennett said he will stress three main topics while he campaigns: health care, public lands and helping refugees while reforming immigration.
On health care, he said, “We have a Republican Party that has spectacularly failed in its promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, and Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight. The Democrats are standing on the sidelines, and the Republicans are just trying to find some way to give President Trump a legislative victory.”
He said, “They are not actually interested in fixing a broken system…. I’m interested in going and trying to find real solutions.”
He pointed to his father’s across-the-aisle work with then Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson on a law to end public-lands fights in Washington County — and his father thought it would be a template to follow in other areas around the state.
“That hasn’t happened. Republicans have dropped the ball. I’m going to pick that ball up and I’m going to pick up where my father left off,” he said.
Bennett also said he is “disheartened by the way the Trump Administration has treated the refugee problem across the world. As Gov. Gary Herbert has pointed out, Utah is a state that was founded by refugees who were driven from their homes because of what they believed.”
Trump and Republican allies, said Bennett, “are trying to turn their backs on [refugees]. I am not going to turn my back on them. I’m going to do everything I can to create an immigration and refugee policy that reflects the best of who we are as a nation and as a state.”
Richard Davis, a former Democrat who is chairman of the United Utah Party, said the court victory to win a spot on the ballot “is the beginning of the end of the one-party state in Utah.” He said the party “is already talking to candidates about running next year.”
Several other third-party and unaffiliated candidates are also in the race, including Libertarian Joe Buchman, Independent American Party candidate Jason Christensen, unaffiliated candidate Sean Whalen, and write-in candidate Russell Paul Roesler.