Senator Robert F. Bennett parked his white Acura, walked through the doors of Bryant Middle School and stood alone as he began the obstacle course that will determine his political fate.
"Do you need my ID?" Mr. Bennett asked, reaching for his wallet as he approached the registration table at his neighborhood Republican caucus, the first step in his effort to secure his party's nomination to a fourth term. No, a volunteer said with a smile. In Utah, of course, he is well known. And he recalls a time he was well liked.
The dissatisfaction with Washington sweeping through politics is not only threatening the Democratic majority in Congress, it is also roiling Republican primaries. The Tea Party movement and advocacy groups on the right are demanding that candidates hew strictly to their ideological standards, and are moving aggressively to cast out those they deem to have strayed, even if only by participating in the compromises of legislating.
There is no bigger quarry in the eyes of many conservative activists than Mr. Bennett, who has drawn seven challengers and will not know for six weeks whether he will even qualify for the ballot. His fate is being watched not only by grass-roots conservatives testing their ability to shape the party, but also by many elected Republicans in Washington who are wondering, If Bob Bennett is not conservative enough, who is?
The rise of the Tea Party movement, along with an investment in the race by the Club for Growth, the antitax Washington-based group that seeks to influence Republican primaries, has turned the race into what the soft-spoken senator calls "the nastiest one I have experienced."
Zeleny noted that Bennett's voting record is solidly conservative, though his ACU rating is not overwhelmingly so:
Conservative advocacy groups have consistently given Mr. Bennett high marks, including an "A" ranking from the National Rifle Association, a 98 percent rating by the United States Chamber of Commerce and an 84 percent rating from the American Conservative Union.