Sen. Bob Bennett ponders his future

Politics » Three-term senator won't collect stamps or retire says 'retired people die.'
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Sen. Bob Bennett may be toying with the idea of a write-in campaign to keep his perch, but he seems to be devoting a lot more attention to the rest of his term and life after the Senate.

"I want to find something to do that keeps me intellectually active," the 76-year-old Bennett said in an interview Thursday with The Tribune . "And I hope it will be productive for the state, for the country -- whatever it might be. I don't want to go off and make ships in a bottle, collect stamps or something of that kind."

It's the kind of statement a calculating politician might carefully avoid, lest it offend hobbyists who also are voters. Bennett, though, appears unburdened by such concerns.

After being denied the Republican nomination for a fourth term by an angry GOP base last Saturday at the Utah party convention, Bennett says he's holding off on making any major decisions about his future. The questions, though, linger: Should he mount an expensive and difficult write-in campaign for the general election? If not, should he give a pre-primary endorsement to one of the two candidates -- Tim Bridgewater or Mike Lee -- who vanquished him from the party ticket?

Should he seek out business opportunities or try to reenter government service through a different door? Should he sell his home just outside Washington and return to Utah or stay put on the shores of the Potomac?

Then there are choices Bennett has already made: He will not be a lobbyist ("I've done that before," he says dismissively, referring to his work decades ago with J.C. Penney Co. and the U.S. Transportation Department. He's not going to retire, ("Retired people die") -- that frankness again --and he will pen a book or two but he's not starting on his autobiography.

"I don't think I'm ready for my memoirs yet", Bennett says. "But, yeah, I've got a couple more books in me."

Bennett last year published Leap of Faith , a book examining whether the Book of Mormon could have been a forgery (he concluded it wasn't) and when he was CEO of Franklin International Institute in the 1980s, wrote a slim self-improvement work called Gaining Control .

And the counsel to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he's on the lookout for someone who can take on his efforts to reform Social Security and other entitlement programs.

"I don't want to let that just die", Bennett said. "The issues obviously won't die, but I would like to think that one of my legacies would be the work that I did was passed on in such a way that it could surface."

His top focus while remaining in Congress, though, Bennett says will be to reverse the Obama administration's decision to shelve the Ares and Constellation space programs, a move which could cost thousands of Utah jobs.

"That's my first priority," Bennett said.

Bennett talked this week with former Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican who lost his race in 2008, and heard the same sage advice many of his colleagues have passed on: Don't rush to any decisions.

Former three-term Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, said Bennett is wise to hold off. Boards of directors, presidential appointments, private sector opportunities -- all will come knocking at some point.

"He should just go serve out his term," said Simpson, who since his retirement in 1996 has taught, served on the Iraq Study Group and currently heads a presidential commission to find ways to tackle the federal debt.

"When he goes back he should find the nurturing support, and he really will, of Democrats and Republicans alike, who will clap him on his back and say, 'You were great senator.' He'll have a lot of support."

For his part, Bennett says he's going to take some time and weigh his future, which he says, could still include the write-in campaign that many people are trying to talk him into.

"So, all right, these people have been my friends, these people have been my supporters, my contributors who are coming to me saying, it's my duty," Bennett says. "I'm not going to dismiss them out of hand, but I've not made that decision."

Bennett ponders his future

Bob Bennett

The 18-year Senate veteran hasn't ruled out running a write-in campaign, but makes it sound unlikely. He has more than seven months left in his current term and he wants to make sure he uses the time productively. He is ruling out lobbying and says he plans to write a couple of books, though not his memoirs -- yet.